Lockdown empties Delhi streets amid deadly surge

NEW DELHI (AFP) – New Delhi led major cities across India into a weekend lockdown yesterday as the country confronts a fierce new coronavirus wave, with more than 230,000 fresh daily cases and families clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.

Hopes that South Asia might have beaten the pandemic have been dashed with India seeing over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan also imposing shutdowns.

India added another record 234,000 cases yesterday to pass 14.5 million overall and 1,341 deaths took its pandemic total to 175,649 deaths.

The per-capita rates remain low by international comparison, but the speed at which cases are rising led the international Red Cross to call the South Asian surge “truly frightening”.

India now has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world’s worst-hit country.

Police stand guard in the backdrop of Jama Masjid as a lockdown is in effect wherein only people catering to essential services were allowed to commute as directed by the Delhi state government to curb the spread of the Covid-19 infections. PHOTO: AFP

After a national lockdown a year ago led to an economic slump, the Indian government is desperate to avoid a second stoppage. But Delhi joined Mumbai in ordering all but essential services to close.

Landmarks such as the historic Red Fort where tens of thousands of people would normally gather were deserted. “Not one person has turned up,” said security guard Anil Dayan. Police checked many of the cars that strayed onto the streets.

The city of more than 20 million people now has the most daily cases in India and restaurants, malls and gyms were all closed. Weddings can go ahead with guests limited to 50 people, while only 20 can attend funerals. “Don’t panic. All essential services will be available through the weekend,” Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said.

Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, Gujarat and IT hub Bangalore’s home state Karnataka have also imposed restrictions on movement.