Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under increasing pressure to impose a nationwide lockdown as the country grapples with the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak.
On Monday, India reported 366,161 new cases, the health ministry said – the first time daily infections have fallen below 400,000 since May 6. The total caseload is now more than 22 million since the start of the pandemic.
The Department of Health also reported a further 3,754 virus-related deaths on Monday, after two consecutive days of reporting more than 4,000 fatalities.
The country has now recorded 246,116 total Covid-19 deaths – one of the highest in the world – with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimating that India may have reached 1 million deaths in August.
The spiral crisis is extending the Indian healthcare system beyond breaking point. Beds, oxygen and medical personnel are scarce. Some Covid patients die in waiting rooms or outside overwhelmed clinics before even seeing a doctor.
While more than half of Indian states and union territories have implemented their own shutdowns to cope with the second wave, more and more demands are being made on India to impose a second national lockdown.
Indians are waiting May 8 to refill oxygen bottles for Covid-19 patients at a gas supplier in New Delhi. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and top White House coronavirus advisor, said he felt India should shut down.
“You have to close the doors. I believe several Indian states have already done that, but you have to break the chain of transmission, and one of the ways to do that is to stop,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week.
” In a separate interview with CNN partner CNN News18 on Friday, Fauci added that such a lockdown was necessary to “get ahead of the outbreak trajectory.
“I’m not talking about the six-month shutdown,” he said. “You just have to break the chain of transmission. And you can do that by standing still for as much as possible for two, three weeks, four weeks.
And then once the cases start to decline and you vaccinate more people than you do. can get ahead of the out break’s trajectory. ”On Saturday, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said it had called for a“ complete, well-planned, pre-announced national lockdown ”for the past 20 days.
The lockdown, it said, had to take about 10 to 15 days to give the country’s overburdened health system time to “recoup and replenish both the material and the manpower.”
Outside of India, a growing number of Asian countries are plagued by new waves of coronavirus. The IMA said that “sporadic curfews” and other restrictions imposed by various states “have not done any good.
” India imposed one of the world’s largest and toughest lockdowns in March last year, when the country reported just over 500 coronavirus cases and 10 related deaths with 1.36 billion people.
The national measure was announced with less than four hours’ notice and little planning, sparking a migrant crisis.
It also virtually brought the country’s economic activity to a halt, bringing businesses, factories and construction sites to a halt. Modi previously warned that lockdowns should only be considered a last resort.
“In the current situation, we need to save the country from lockdown. I would urge states to use lockdown as a last resort. We should try hard to avoid lockdowns and focus only on micro-containment zones,” he said at the end of April.
It is left to the states to decide when and how to implement these zones.
indian variant contributing to the crisis
In an interview with Agency France-Presses (AFP) Saturday, the World Health Organization chief scientist said the Covid-19 variant spreading in India, known as B1617, is more contagious and contributing To the crisis there.
Soumya Swami Nathan warned “the epidemiological features we see in India today indicate that it is an extremely fast-spreading variety.” She also said that large gatherings, social mixing, the relaxation of mask wearing, and other protective measures were also to blame.
The variant, which was first identified in India in October, is listed by the WHO as a ‘variant of interest’, but Swami Nathan said it could soon be called a ‘variant of concern’ indicating that it is more dangerous than the original kind.
Medical Journal denounces Indian government for ‘wasting’ early success on Covid-19 “B 1.617 is likely a variant of concern, as it has some mutations that increase transmission, and which can potentially make antibody resistant as well generated by vaccination or by natural infection, ”she said.
The Indian government has been accused of ignoring warnings of a second wave, encouraging complacency and not being transparent about Covid-19 data, in a damning editorial in the Lancet medical journal.
The publication labeled Modi’s government response as “inexcusable”, saying India had “squandered its early successes” in controlling Covid-19. Despite the warning about “the risks of superspreader events,” religious festivals and political gatherings were allowed to continue.
As the number of infections increases, at least 24 of India’s 36 states and union territories are being shut down completely, according to CNN data from state governments.
And several regional authorities announced new restrictions last week with some extensions or tightening of previously established guidelines.
Last weekend, the western state of Gujarat and the northern states of Uttar Pradesh – the most populous in India – and Uttarakhand imposed or extended lockdowns.
In a statement, the Uttar Pradesh government announced an extension for an additional seven days until May 17, during which only essential services will be allowed to function.
“Only medically related work, vaccinations, commercial activities providing essential services will be allowed,” the statement said. According to the state government, a total of 36 cities in Gujarat will have their lockdowns extended until May 12.
In Uttarakhand, which begins a week-long lockdown on May 11, infections have been on the rise since April, when the Kumbh Mela – a Hindu festival where millions of pilgrims from around the country traditionally congregate along the banks of sacred rivers to offer their prayers – – took place.
Central Reserve Police Force at a temporary checkpoint during Covid-19 Corona Curfew in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir on May 9.
On Sunday, the union territory of Delhi, which includes the capital, New Delhi, announced that it is extending the closure for a third time until May 17.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the latest lockdown will be “tougher”, with non-essential shops and services required to remain closed, and local metro train services suspended.
Meanwhile, India’s northernmost union territory, Jammu and Kashmir, imposed a “corona curfew” in all its districts until May 17, the Department of Information and Public Relations said Saturday.
India’s neighbors on the brink of a Covid catastrophe
As India’s coronavirus crisis worsens, new wave of infections are rapidly engulfing a growing number of countries in South and Southeast Asia.In Nepal, hospitals close their doors to new patients struggling with acute oxygen deficiency.
The Om Hospital and Research Center in Kathmandu said on Sunday it could not accept new patients amid an “oxygen crisis.” It is one of six private hospitals in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, that is halting the admission of Covid patients due to lack of oxygen supply.
Nepal registered 8,850 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the country’s registered total to 394,667, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health. In the Kathmandu Valley alone, 4,198 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours.
Nepalese doctors treat a Covid-19 patient in the corridor of a hospital emergency room in Kathmandu, Nepal, on May 5.
The international rights group Human Rights Watch called on the Nepalese government on Sunday to “take urgent action” to address the rapidly escalating Covid-19 emergency there.
“The Nepalese public health system with insufficient resources is above capacity,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Large quantities of oxygen equipment and other medical supplies are urgently needed to prevent a Covid-19 disaster in the country.
” In Pakistan, the country’s top Covid official warned that the danger of spreading the virus in the country is “greater than ever”.
Asad Umar, the chief of Pakistan’s National Command and Control Center (NCOC), said in a tweet Saturday that “caution is needed” and that the country must “unite” against the danger of another wave.
Pakistan has imposed a lockdown in the run-up to the holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
According to the country’s Ministry of Health, there are 82,731 active cases of the virus in the country with 120 deaths in the past 24 hours.