National lockdown call as India tops 20m COVID cases

India on Tuesday confirmed more than 20 million coronavirus infections in the official total, though the figure is believed to be a vast undercount.

A vicious surge in COVID-19 cases has left the country’s healthcare system at breaking point, with hospitals running out of oxygen and nearly all hospital beds occupied.

The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.

The Indian variant, which is suspected to be highly infectious, could snowball into a global problem – according to the WHO, it has already spread to at least 17 countries.

The disastrous new chapter of the pandemic in India threatens not just its safety but puts the entire world at risk.

Meanwhile, Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison has fended off accusations of racism and having “blood on his hands” as he retreated from a threat to jail Australians trying to escape coronavirus-wracked India.

Australia last week banned all travellers from India, including its own citizens, from entering the country until May 15 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases there, and warned offenders will face the maximum penalties of five years in jail and a 66,000 Australian dollar ($51,122) fine for breaking border rules.

Morrison said it was “highly unlikely” travellers from India would face the penalties amid pressure to overturn them after the decision to close borders came into force on Monday.

“I don’t think it would be fair to suggest these penalties in their most extreme forms are likely to be placed anywhere but this is a way to ensure we can prevent the virus coming back,” Morrison told local broadcaster Channel Nine on Tuesday.

Morrison said the rules would be used “responsibly and proportionately” but they had to be put in place to ease the pressure on the country’s quarantine systems, which saw a 1,500 percent spike in COVID-19 cases from India since March.