NEW DELHI, India: Indian health ministry has reported a record rise in coronavirus infections of 273,810 as capital New Delhi announced a complete six-day curfew and lockdown starting Monday night and hospitals across the country struggle with a shortage of hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
India’s overall coronavirus caseload is now past 15 million, second only to the United States globally.
The country’s deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 1,619 to reach a total of 178,769, according to health ministry data.
The Indian capital will be under a strict lockdown for six days starting on Monday night, Delhi state’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, adding the healthcare system was at a breaking point because of the worsening Covid-19 outbreak.
“If we don’t impose a lockdown now, we will be looking at a bigger disaster. From tonight there will be a lockdown until next Monday,” Kejriwal said.
Several major market associations in the city, which is among the country’s worst-hit, have announced that they will keep their markets closed till April 25.
Kejriwal also said the capital was also facing acute shortages of hospital beds and key medicines such as the anti-viral remdesivir.
“The cases are rising very fast… with only 100 beds left,” Kejriwal said on Sunday in a video statement, adding that additional beds would be set up at some schools and a sports complex.
He later tweeted that there was an “acute shortage of oxygen”, adding in capital letters that “oxygen has become an emergency” in the megalopolis.
Indian social media was flooded with people complaining about the lack of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs, and citizen groups circulating helpline numbers and volunteering support.
Despite soaring infections, politicians continued to hold mass rallies across the country for state elections.
Criticism has mounted over how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has handled India’s second wave of the pandemic, with religious festivals and election rallies being attended by thousands.
Leaders including Home Minister Amit Shah are set to hold further roadshows and public meetings on Monday.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi – who has also addressed election rallies in recent weeks – said on Sunday he was suspending all his public rallies in West Bengal, which is in the middle of polls.
Indian media reports on Monday said Modi will chair an “important meeting” Monday on “Covid-related situation” as Maharashtra’s ruling Shiv Sena party demanded a special session of India’s Parliament to discuss the coronavirus crisis.
The Delhi government also said millions of pilgrims who attended an ongoing Hindu festival, the Kumbh Mela, had to quarantine for two weeks if they returned to the city.
Nearly 3,700 people have tested positive in the past week in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the Ganges river where the Kumbh Mela festival is being observed, the Uttarakhand state government said.
Oil prices were lower as rising coronavirus infections in India and other countries prompted concerns that stronger measures to contain the pandemic will hit economic activity, along with demand for commodities such as crude.
Brent crude was down 17 cents, or 0.3%, at $66.60 a barrel by 06:43 GMT on Monday, after rising 6% last week. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) United States oil was down 10 cents, or 0.2%, at $63.03 a barrel, having gained 6.4% last week.