India’s daily virus cases soar past 100,000

NEW DELHI (AP) — India reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic yesterday, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are resuming the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.

The Health Ministry reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.

India now has a seven-day rolling average of over 73,000 cases per day and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.

The biggest contributor to the surge has been the western state of Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai. The state has contributed over 55 per cent of total cases in the country in the last two weeks.

The state started shutting cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship from yesterday evening. Authorities will also impose a complete lockdown at weekends.

People wait to get inoculated in New Delhi, India. PHOTO: AP

Infections had receded in India for several months but started to rise again in late February. Since then, new cases have increased more than tenfold.

India confirmed a new and potentially troublesome variant of the virus, but officials have cautioned against linking that or other variants to the surge.

Experts said the surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces, including public gatherings. Some say the government has been sending mixed messages.

As health officials continue to warn of gatherings in public places, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party leaders continue to hold mammoth rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

Modi’s government also allowed a huge month-long religious festival to go ahead on the banks of the Ganges River in northern Uttarakhand state. The festival draws tens of thousands of devotees daily.

India intensified its vaccination drive in recent weeks, now administering over three million jabs a day. But the shots have been slow to reach India’s nearly 1.4 billion people.

Over 76 million Indians have received at least one shot, but only 9.5 million of them have received both. Health officials want to cover 300 million people by August, but experts said the vaccinations need to move faster to stop the spread.

The country launched the third phase of its coronavirus vaccination drive with those older than 45 eligible for the jab. In the first two phases, frontline workers and people above the age of 60 were eligible.