(ATF) India reported its biggest single-day spike in Covid cases on Monday, becoming only the second country after the United States to post more than 100,000 new cases in a day.
Epidemiologists said India had reported hundreds of cases of the virus variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, which was one of the reasons behind the surge. Many have also blamed politicians who have staged massive election rallies and raised fears of further spreads of the virus.
Polling is underway in 444 Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Puducherry and West Bengal.
Though cases have risen exponentially in nearly a dozen states, politicians and ministers are still addressing election rallies attended by tens of thousands of mask-less people jostling for space.
The health minister in the northeastern state of Assam, currently voting to elect a new government, was ridiculed on social media on the weekend after saying there was no need for masks in his state and that wearing one hurts businesses like beauty parlours.
“The new variant, or variants of concern, probably explains a lot of it, rather than simplistic explanation of behaviour,” said Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The country’s daily infections have risen about 12-fold since hitting a multi-month low in early February, when authorities eased most restrictions and people largely stopped wearing masks and following social distancing.
In the past 24 hours, India reported over 97,000 new Covid cases and about 450 deaths pushing the number of total cases to over 12.6 million -- the highest after the United States and Brazil. Some 11.7 million Indians have recovered, while 165,547 have died of the virus.
According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, eight states -- namely Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab -- have shown a steep rise in the daily new cases.
Hospitals in the worst affected state, Maharashtra, are being overrun by patients. India’s richest state, home to its commercial capital Mumbai and numerous industries, reported a record 60,000 new cases overnight.
Maharashtra will start shutting shopping malls, cinemas, bars, restaurants and places of worship from Tuesday evening. Authorities will also impose a complete lockdown at weekends, as experts worried about a shortage of critical-care beds in hospitals, especially in its smaller cities.
The rise in cases has pulled down the stock market too.
Subhash Salunke, a former WHO official who advises Maharashtra on its Covid-19 strategy, said cases in the state would continue to rise for another couple of weeks. He said a way out was vaccinating all adults in its hardest-hit cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.
“If we start doing this, by the end of April we will see a downward trend,” he said.
India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, has injected 77 million doses at home since starting its campaign in the middle of January - the third highest after the United States and China.
India’s per capita Covid vaccinations, however, are lower than many other countries, including that of more populated China, which started giving shots to its citizens much earlier.
India is currently vaccinating only people above the age of 45, having covered health and front-line workers first with the AstraZeneca shot and a government-backed one.
In a meeting held by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, officials discussed raising the country’s vaccine output further. The government has in recent weeks slowed vaccine exports, after shipping more than 65 million doses.
"It was highlighted that all efforts are underway to secure adequate quantities of vaccines to meet the rising domestic requirements as well as to meet the genuine needs of other countries," his office said in a statement here.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, chaired a high-level meeting on Sunday to review the pandemic situation and vaccination programme in the country.
He also constituted 50 high-level multi-disciplinary public health teams and deployed them to 50 districts across Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Punjab. The teams were rushed to assist the State Health Department and local authorities in Covid surveillance, control and containment measures.
- With reporting by Reuters