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Covid infections: India overtakes Brazil as world’s second worst-hit country

NEW DELHI, India: India has reported a record 168,912 Covid-19 infections overnight, data from the health ministry showed, overtaking Brazil to become the second-most affected country globally by the coronavirus.

Deaths in India stood at 904, taking the total to 170,179, data showed on Monday.

India’s overall tally reached 13.53 million, while John Hopkins University put the total number of cases in Brazil at 13.48 million. The United States leads the global tally with 31.2 million cases.

India had surpassed Brazil in September last year to become the second-most affected country in the world by cases, but it slipped to third place after seeing a decline in cases until January this year.

The world’s second-most populous country has experienced a sharp rise in cases after several weeks of religious festivals, campaign rallies and lax mask-wearing.

While regional elections are underway in several states, tens of thousands of people have also gathered in northern Uttarakhand state for the Kumbh Mela or Pitcher Festival, a Hindu religious pilgrimage.

The government is desperate to avoid a hugely unpopular second lockdown but many states are tightening the screws.

In worst-hit Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, restaurants are shut and public gatherings of more than five people are banned.

The health ministry said the surge has led to a “spike in demand” for the antiviral drug redeliver, forcing the ban on its export despite a World Health Organization-backed study saying it has “little or no effect” on Covid-19 mortality.

Concerns over the side effects and effectiveness of tested and approved vaccines continue to rattle nerves elsewhere.

The health ministry says the ban to be in place until the ‘situation improves’ as India sees the sixth record rise in seven days.

The country on Friday reported 131,968 new Covid-19 infections, a record increase for a third-straight day, data from the health ministry showed. Deaths rose by 780 to a total of 167,642.

With an overall tally at 13.06 million, India’s overall caseload was the third-highest globally, behind the United States and Brazil.

Election rallies led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and other important political figures, as well as crowded festivals and religious gatherings, have contributed to the record resurgence of the new coronavirus.

After quelling the first surge late last year, India’s leaders let down their guard. Allowing or even encouraging dangerous behaviour, they underestimated the virus, reopening the economy too fast and too broadly, experts say.

Days after the federal health minister declared India’s Covid-19 outbreak contained in late January, Mumbai reopened its huge suburban train network and authorities let tens of thousands of visitors into stadiums for international cricket matches.

Many of the South Asian nation’s 1.35 billion people ignored masks and social distancing, while politicians including Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah greeted hundreds of thousands of mostly maskless supporters at election rallies.

Political parties have largely flouted Covid-19 rules during campaigns for multi-phase elections in four big states and one federal territory that started last month.

“Political leaders are themselves responsible” for the resurgence by allowing the packed rallies, said Dr Subhash Salunke, a former World Health Organization official who advises the worst-hit state, Maharashtra. “The upward trend is going to be there for another couple of weeks.”

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told officials of 11 of the worst-hit states this week that “people largely gave up on Covid-appropriate behaviour, became very careless” as activity resumed.