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India battles record COVID surge as rallies, Hindu festival draw huge crowds

Reuters
  Kathmandu, Nepal      April 17 2021

 

DELHI, April 17: India battled a record surge in COVID-19 cases on Friday as hospitals ran out of oxygen and beds, while politicians held election rallies and hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees attended a weeks-long festival, infuriating health officials.

A massive second wave of infections, second only to the United States in total, forced authorities to restrict movement of people in Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities amid growing calls for faster vaccination rollouts.

The 217,353 new cases reported by the health ministry on Friday marked the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days and took the total number of cases to nearly 14.3 million.

The United States has reported more than 31 million infections.

Deaths in India rose by 1,185 over the past 24 hours - the highest single-day rise in seven months - to reach a total of 174,308.

Experts have raised concerns about the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, particularly given widespread participation in religious festivals and political rallies. A Lancet study this month estimated that daily deaths in India could double by June.

Hundreds of thousands of ascetics and devout Hindus were gathered along the banks of the Ganges in the northern state of Uttarakhand after a mass dip during a religious festival on Wednesday, hoping to wash away their sins. Hundreds have tested positive.

In the capital Delhi, cases hit a record 16,699 overnight.

"It appears that more younger people have severe illness," said Giridhara Babu, an epidemiology professor at the Indian Institute of Public Health.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan again blamed a "casual approach" for the unprecedented rise in cases, though his colleagues in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party were still addressing election rallies attended by tens of thousands with little evidence of masks or social distancing.

Home Minister Amit Shah, whose department oversees lockdown and other COVID rules, held a roadshow on an open-top vehicle through a crowded street seeking votes in the state of West Bengal.

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"The speed with which the virus is spreading in our region (South Asia) is truly frightening," said Udaya Regmi, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.