India’s capital New Delhi on Sunday extended its lockdown as the country’s Covid-19 crisis grew with infections and deaths hitting record highs.
The announcement came as the healthcare system struggled to cope with the huge surge, with reports of severe oxygen and medicine shortages and patients’ families pleading for help on social media.
The vast nation of 1.3 billion people recorded 3,49,691 fresh cases and 2,767 deaths in the last 24 hours — the highest since the start of the pandemic.
The northern megacity — home to 20 million people and the worst-hit in India — had imposed a weeklong lockdown on Monday.
‘We have decided to extend the lockdown by one week,’ Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said.
‘The havoc of coronavirus continues and there is no respite. Everyone is in favour of extending the lockdown.’
Delhi on Saturday reported just over 24,000 new cases — with more than one-quarter of those tested returning positive results — and a record-high 357 deaths.
The country has administered almost 141 million vaccine shots so far, but experts say the mass inoculation programme needs to be significantly stepped up to combat the worsening outbreak.
Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus has killed at least 31,00,659 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1000 GMT on Sunday.
At least 14,63,37,640 cases of coronavirus have been registered. The vast majority have recovered, though some have continued to experience symptoms weeks or even months later.
On Saturday, 13,540 new deaths and 823,179 new cases were recorded worldwide.
Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were Brazil with 3,076 new deaths, followed by India with 2,767 and United States with 801.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 5,71,921 deaths from 3,20,45,235 cases.
After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 3,89,492 deaths from 1,43,08,215 cases, Mexico with 2,14,853 deaths from 23,26,738 cases and the United Kingdom with 1,27,417 deaths from 44,03,170 cases.
Europe overall has 10,48,699 deaths from 4,93,75,162 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 8,93,425 deaths from 2,80,53,624 infections, and the United States and Canada 5,95,837 deaths from 3,32,15,081 cases.
Asia has reported 3,15,531 deaths from 2,35,98,028 cases, the Middle East 1,26,290 deaths from 75,54,019 cases, Africa 1,19,837 deaths from 44,99,110 cases, and Oceania 1,040 deaths from 42,625 cases.
Prime minister Narendra Modi said in a monthly radio address Sunday that India had been shaken by a ‘storm’, and called on people to get vaccinated and not ‘get swayed by any rumour about the vaccines’.
There’s been growing criticism of Modi’s government over allegations it was caught underprepared ahead of the surge.
On Sunday, Twitter confirmed it withheld dozens of tweets critical of the unfolding crisis at the request of the Indian government.
The social media giant said the tweets were blocked in India after a legal demand from New Delhi, months after similar action was taken against comments critical of the government’s new agriculture laws that sparked violent protests.
Indian-administered Kashmir on Saturday became the latest region to impose curbs on movement and activities as it announced a weekend lockdown.
Vinod K Paul, a member of the government advisory body NITI Aayog, warned in a presentation to the prime minister and state leaders on Friday that daily cases could rise to as high as half a million by mid-May.
‘The number of deaths may increase due to lack of treatment facilities,’ the Indian Express reported Sunday, citing the presentation.
Numerous reports have emerged in badly affected regions of some patients dying even before they were admitted to hospitals.
The government has stepped up its efforts to provide oxygen supplies through special trains and airlifts of containers from other countries including Germany, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
More than 500 oxygen-generation plants were also to be set up in government hospitals, the health ministry said Sunday.
Businesses and entrepreneurs have said they would pitch in as well.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Sunday tweeted that the administration was ‘working closely with our partners in the Indian government’.
‘We will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes,’ he added.
Arch-foe Pakistan offered medical equipment and supplies after prime minister Imran Khan tweeted prayers for a ‘speedy recovery’.
The neighbouring country is also struggling with the virus and on Sunday reported 157 deaths in the previous 24 hours — the highest since the start of the pandemic.
Sri Lanka passed 1,00,000 cases on Sunday, while the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, which has vaccinated more than half of its population with first vaccine shots, has reported 1,000 overall infections.
The European Union will provide help to India, the Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen pledges Sunday.
The bloc is pooling resources using the EU civil protection mechanism for a rapid response, she writes on Twitter.
Italy becomes the latest country to ban arrivals from India, apart from Italian residents, health minister Roberto Speranza announces Sunday.
Anyone already in Italy who had been in India in the past 14 days should contact health authorities, he says.
Greece becomes the latest European nation to detect a case of the Covid-19 variant that has helped drive an explosion in infections in India, authorities announce.
London police arrest five people, and eight officers are injured Saturday, after disorder at a large-scale protest against the continued mandatory use of masks and possible introduction of so-called vaccine passports.
Thousands of protesters defy a ban to march in eastern Switzerland Saturday against measures aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19, most of them ignoring the requirement to wear a mask.