Aljazeera – India has reported a record daily increase of 217,353 Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed – the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days.
Deaths from Covid-19 rose by 1,185 – the highest single-day rise in seven months – to reach a total of 174,308, the health ministry’s data showed on Friday.
With a total tally of nearly 14.3 million, India this week overtook Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of cases worldwide after the United States.
India’s daily coronavirus caseload has doubled in 10 days, as authorities grapple with shortages of vaccines, treatments and hospital beds.
Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and crowds at cricket matches, India is experiencing a vicious second wave, recording almost two million fresh infections this month alone and forcing new restrictions in Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities.
Experts have raised concerns about the spread of more contagious and deadlier variants of the disease, particularly given widespread participation in religious festivals and political rallies.
A Lancet study this month estimated that India’s fatalities could double by June.
“The biggest fight we have is in the society … Over a period of time, people have adopted a casual approach,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences on Friday.
Several senior leaders and opposition lawmakers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi, have been holding large rallies for supporters amid elections in five regions, including West Bengal.
Visuals from the rallies have shown thousands of mask-less people crowded together and chanting slogans as they listen to speeches from politicians, in clear violation of social distancing and other Covid-19 norms.
Interior Minister Amit Shah was scheduled to hold public meetings and roadshows in West Bengal on Friday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people at a religious gathering in Haridwar in the north of the country tested positive for COovid-19 as tens of thousands of devout pilgrims jostled to take a holy dip in the Ganges.
The weeks-long Kumbh Mela festival, where ascetics bathe to wash away their sins, began earlier this month and officials have warned they expect cases to rise significantly. One local official called it a “super-spreader” event.
There are also growing calls for officials to speed up the country’s vaccination programme as hospitals are swamped with patients.
India has so far injected 115 million vaccine doses, the highest globally after the United States and China, but that covers only a small fraction of its 1.4 billion people.
In the heat of the latest wave of infections, India has shifted from being a mass vaccine exporter to a major importer.
Officials abruptly changed the rules to allow vaccine imports to be fast-tracked, having earlier rebuffed foreign drugmakers like Pfizer. It will import Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine starting this month to cover as many as 125 million people.
India is also seeking to inoculate more of its population using domestically produced shots.
India on Thursday gave approval to the Haffkine Institute in the western Maharashtra state to begin producing Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN shot, a move that is expected to help ease supply bottlenecks.
The country is currently administering COVAXIN and AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and branded as Covishield.
Indian hospitals are now struggling to cope, running short of beds, oxygen and coronavirus medicines like remdesivir.
In a new disturbing trend, doctors across the most-affected cities told AFP news agency they had seen an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients aged below 45 and suffering from more severe symptoms compared with last year.
“We are also seeing children under the ages of 12 and 15 being admitted with symptoms in the second wave. Last year there were practically no children presenting symptoms,” said Khusrav Bajan, a consultant at Mumbai’s PD Hinduja National Hospital.
Many crematoriums are also struggling, according to press reports.
“Since 9am, we have been waiting outside. Now it is 1pm and still, we need another two-three hours for our turn,” said one relative outside a Bengaluru crematorium.
“There are hundreds of people like us waiting here.”