India has reported 58,097 new daily COVID-19 cases, twice the number seen only four days ago, with a top health official in the national capital saying the pandemic’s third wave in the country “has set in”.
Deaths rose by 534, including the southern state of Kerala’s updated death toll of 423, lifting the national total to 482,551, according to the health ministry data on Wednesday.
The total number of cases officially reported so far are more than 35 million, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant begins to overtake Delta, a strain first discovered in India.
Omicron cases in the country have risen to 2,135, a federal health ministry official told reporters in New Delhi. But with limited capacities for genome sequencing, the actual number is estimated to be much higher.
Authorities in the capital New Delhi have ordered people to stay home over the coming weekends as they feared the city would report at least 10,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the most senior elected official in the capital’s administration, was among the 37,379 new cases reported in India on Tuesday.
Kejriwal, who announced his infection a day after addressing an election rally without a mask, is among dozens of political leaders – including Prime Minister Narendra Modi – holding events across India in front of large crowds.
In the northeastern Manipur and Tripura states, Modi addressed thousands of people at rallies on Tuesday, many sitting in close proximity with their masks pulled down.
The opposition Indian National Congress party has put on hold all election rallies and door-to-door campaigns in Uttar Pradesh, one of the five states scheduled to hold regional polls in the coming months.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and some other opposition groups also cancelled some of their election rallies in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
Mega political rallies last year helped the Delta variant to wreak havoc in India, and with several state elections due in coming months, health experts and the public are worried.
India’s financial capital Mumbai and the technology hub Bengaluru have also imposed curbs on movement during the night, and some cities have closed schools and colleges.
In the eastern city of Kolkata, which has reported one of the highest positivity rates, many residents had to wait for two days to get a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, considered the most reliable in India.
The federal government has encouraged local authorities to impose movement curbs if more than 5 percent of COVID-19 tests are positive, although hospital admissions have not jumped yet.
India faced a brutal second wave of infections between April and June last year, driven by the Delta variant that overwhelmed the health infrastructure and left tens of thousands dead.