India’s new coronavirus infections have hit a record 184,372 in the past 24 hours, data from the Department of Health showed, as most South Asian states are grappling with a second and more vicious spike in cases.
The nationwide number of infections is 13.9 million. Wednesday’s data shows the death toll rose 1,027 and the death toll rose to 172,085.
India reported fewer than 10,000 cases a day earlier this year and has been the hardest hit country in the world as of April 2.
The country currently reports about double the daily cases in the US and Brazil, the other two worst-hit countries, although the daily death toll is lower.
India’s overall infections rank only after the US after overtaking Brazil on Monday.
The Hindu festival continues
Still, on Wednesday, the third key day of the week-long Kumbh Mela or Pitcher Festival, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus gathered to bathe in the Ganges.
Hindu devotees take a holy bath in the Ganges during Kumbh Mela in Haridwar city on Wednesday [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]Sanjay Gunjyal, the chief police officer at the festival, said around 650,000 people bathed on Wednesday morning.
“People are punished for not following social distancing in uncrowded ghats (bathing areas), but it is very difficult to punish people in the main ghats that are very overcrowded,” he said.
According to a Reuters news agency witness, there was little evidence of social distancing or wearing of masks.
According to the government, more than a thousand cases have been reported in Haridwar district in the past two days.
Similar concerns about spikes in cases were sparked by mass election rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and opposition groups during elections in four states and a federal government-led region.
At a rally in eastern West Bengal, a major political award, Home Secretary Amit Shah posted Twitter images of meeting a crowd of supporters while he was being exposed.
The surge in infections in India, for which Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has admitted a widespread failure to observe restrictions on movement and social interaction, has prompted the government to cancel large public events.
Restrictions in Maharashtra
As the situation deteriorates, many states have announced restrictions to contain the spread of the disease.
India’s richest state, Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai and epicenter of the national second wave, accounts for about a quarter of the country’s cases.
The state imposed severe restrictions starting Wednesday to contain the spread of the disease after Prime Minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered most facilities and public spaces in the state to be closed for 15 days, with the exception of those deemed essential including grocery stores, hospitals, Banks and stock exchanges.
“All factories / industries,” with the exception of some export-oriented units and those that manufacture items needed for essential services, “must cease operations,” a government release said.
A bird flies over the skyline of the financial district of central Mumbai [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]The restrictions will shake Maharashtra businesses, but will also have a wider impact on the Indian economy. The state accounts for nearly 15 percent of India’s gross domestic product, which makes it vital to the country’s economic recovery after months of slowing down.
In other countries, overburdened private hospitals turn away patients and place increasing strain on government institutions.
In the western state of Gujurat, local media showed a long line of ambulances waiting outside the Ahmedabad civil hospital. Some patients were treated there while they waited.
A hospital source who refused to be named for not having the authority to speak publicly said it was because many private hospitals were running out of oxygen and sending their patients to the public hospital.
In Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state, known for its large tribal population, the main government hospital’s morgue was struggling to keep up, said joint director Dr. Vineet Jain.
“All oxygenated beds and beds in the intensive care unit are full,” he told Reuters on Tuesday.
“There are around 50 corpses, we don’t have enough space. Some private hospitals do not have space to store the bodies, so they send the bodies to us too. “
Foreign vaccines accelerated
India on Tuesday announced it would speed up emergency approvals for COVID-19 vaccines approved by Western countries and Japan to pave the way for possible imports of Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna shots.
The move frees companies from performing local safety tests on their vaccines.
India is currently using the AstraZeneca shot and a self-drawn vaccine for its own vaccination campaign. This week the Russian Sputnik V-shot was approved for emergency use.
The Department of Health said Tuesday that vaccines approved by the World Health Organization or agencies in the US, Europe, the UK and Japan could get an emergency authorization in India.
Pfizer said it will work to get its vaccine to India after withdrawing its application in February.
U.S. health officials on Tuesday recommended discontinuing use of the J&J shot after six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving them.
India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, has administered more than 108 million vaccine doses, sold more than 54.6 million doses overseas, and gifted more than 10 million to partner countries.
Dozens of poor countries have relied on Indian exports to carry out their vaccination campaigns.