Calls are growing for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs, increasing pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The health ministry on Monday reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths, off a little from recent peaks. India’s tally of infections now stands at 22.66 million, with 246,116 deaths.
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As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India’s actual figures could be far higher than reported.
The 1.47 million samples tested on Sunday for COVID-19 were this month’s lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that India will see one million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Many states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month while others have adopted curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as he did during the first wave of infections last year.
He is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.
“A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
Ex-army medics to be hired
Meanwhile, India’s defency ministry said it will recruit hundreds of former army medics to support its overwhelmed healthcare system.
Some 400 medical officers are expected to serve on contract for a maximum of 11 months, the ministry said in a news release on Sunday, adding that other military doctors had also been contacted for online consultations.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for a “complete, well-planned, pre-announced” lockdown instead of sporadic night curfews and restrictions imposed by states for a few days at a time.
“IMA is astonished to see the extreme lethargy and inappropriate actions from the ministry of health in combating the agonizing crisis born out of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement on Saturday.
Dr Anthony Fauci, a top White House coronavirus adviser, on Sunday said he has advised the Indian authorities they need to shut down.
“You’ve got to shut down. I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down,” Fauci said on ABC’s This Week television programme.
New Delhi, the capital, entered a fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
“This is not the time to be lenient,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
“This phase is so tough, this wave is so dangerous, so many people are dying…the priority at this hour is to save lives,” he said in a televised address.
Late on Sunday, the northern state of Uttarakhand said it would impose curfew from Tuesday until May 18, just days after mass religious gatherings held in the state became virus super spreading events.
Shops selling fruits, vegetables and dairy items will stay open for some hours in the morning, while malls, gyms, theatres, bars and liquor shops are among the enterprises that will be shut, the government said.
The world’s largest vaccine-producing nation has fully vaccinated just more than 34.3 million, or only 2.5 percent, of its 1.35 billion population as of Sunday, according to data from the government’s Co-WIN portal.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment.