India reports highest number of infections since October 11 as inoculation programme was opened to people above 45.
India has reported 81,466 new COVID-19 infections overnight, data from the health ministry showed on Friday, the highest since October 2, 2020.
India’s overall caseload stood at 12.3 million, making it the third-most affected globally, behind the United States and Brazil.
The country reported 469 more deaths, taking the total to 163,396.
Amid a surge in new infections, India on Thursday expanded its coronavirus vaccination drive to include those in the 45-60 age group.
Public and private centres offering jabs would be open every day throughout April including on public holidays in a “significant step to exponentially expand the countrywide vaccination drive”, the health ministry said.
The increased urgency follows a rise in cases since early February when new daily infections dropped below 9,000 to more than 81,000 reported on Friday.
Experts have warned that infections are increasing at a faster pace compared with last year when single-day cases peaked at almost 100,000 in September.
India has administered more than 65 million vaccination shots to the elderly and other vulnerable groups but at a pace too slow to hit the government’s ambitious target of inoculating 300 million people by the end of July.
Maharashtra worst hit Indian state
The state worst hit by the virus has been Maharashtra, home to the country’s financial capital Mumbai.
The western state reported as many as 43,183 new cases on Friday – its highest since the pandemic spread to India in March 2020.
Officials in the state imposed a night curfew over the weekend but are considering stricter control measures, including shutting down religious places and restricting train travel.
At a makeshift hospital at Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai, the number of coronavirus patients admitted had jumped to 940 from 180 three weeks ago, its director Rajesh Dere told the AFP news agency.
He said the complex, also the site of one of Mumbai’s key vaccination centres, was increasing staffing and its opening hours.
“From today, we are running double shifts and can vaccinate 7,000-8,000 in a single day,” Dere added.
Bookings for vaccinations are meant to be made via a nationwide government app but officials at the complex said people could walk in without an appointment.
“There were no hiccups. I didn’t register online or via the app, I just came directly to the centre and got the shot,” 61-year-old lawyer Ashok Sawant told AFP.
The capital New Delhi has also been experiencing a spike in cases but its zoo reopened to visitors on Thursday, more than a year after it closed its doors.
Hazia Ali, 21, who was visiting New Delhi with her family from the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, said they were worried about the virus “but life has to go on”.
Housewife Swati Garg, 32, said she brought her children to the zoo as they were bored at home during the school holidays.
“Not many places are open in Delhi so we decided to come here. We are wearing masks and sanitising ourselves so I think we are safe,” said Garg.
India imposed one of the world’s harshest lockdowns to control the coronavirus early last year, but it was eased to salvage the economy, and cases gradually fell later in the year.
The new surge this year presents a challenge to the government, which already struggled to implement last year’s lockdown.
Infection numbers were also up on Friday in the states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.