India recorded a serious new milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, registering 312,731 new infections in 24 hours, the Indian Ministry of Health said on Thursday. It is the highest daily number of cases in any single country since the virus first appeared in China more than a year ago.
According to a database from the New York Times, India surpassed the previous daily high of 300,669 cases in the US on January 8th.
In the past two months, the outbreak has exploded in India, with reports published of gatherings of superspreaders, lack of oxygen and ambulances outside of hospitals as there are no ventilators for new patients.
With cases hitting new weekly records worldwide, 40 percent of infections come from India. This is a sobering reminder that the pandemic is far from over, even as infections recede and vaccinations advance in the US and other wealthy parts of the world. India has exceeded a total of 15.6 million infections, the second most common after the US.
The death toll has also risen sharply.
The Indian government recorded 2,104 deaths on Thursday and an average of more than 1,300 people died from the virus every day for the past week. That’s less than at the worst points of the pandemic in the US or Brazil, but it’s a steep increase from two months ago when less than 100 people died daily in India.
There are signs that the country’s healthcare system, which was already inconsistent before the pandemic, is collapsing under the strain. At least 22 people died in an accident in downtown Nashik on Tuesday when a leak in a hospital’s main oxygen tank cut off oxygen flow to Covid-19 patients.
The picture is astonishingly different from early February, when India averaged just 11,000 cases a day and domestic drug companies pumped millions of doses of vaccine. More than 132 million Indians have received at least one dose, but supplies are running low and experts warn the country is unlikely to meet its goal of vaccinating 300 million people by the summer.
Critics say Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who imposed a tough statewide lockdown in March 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic, failed to prepare for a second wave or warned Indians to remain vigilant about the virus, especially as infectious variants emerge spread out.
Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has also allowed a massive Hindu festival that drew millions of pilgrims to the banks of the Ganges, and his party has held overcrowded political rallies in several states.
“India’s rapid slide into this unprecedented crisis is a direct result of government complacency and unpreparedness,” Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Washington Center for the Dynamics, Economics and Politics of Disease, wrote Tuesday in the New York Times.
The hardest hit region is Maharashtra, a populous western state that also includes Mumbai’s financial center. On Wednesday, the top head of state ordered government offices to operate at 15 percent capacity and imposed new restrictions on weddings and private transportation to slow the spread of the virus.