India’s daily Covid-19 death toll surpassed 4,000 for the first time on Saturday, with Tamil Nadu becoming the latest state to announce a complete lockdown to curb surging infections, says CNN.
The country’s health ministry reported a record 4,187 fatalities for the previous 24 hours, as well as more than 400,000 new infections for the third day in a row. India has now reported more than 21 million cases and 238,000 related deaths since the pandemic began.
The spiraling crisis is stretching India’s health care system beyond breaking point. Beds, oxygen and medical workers are in short supply. Some Covid patients are dying in waiting rooms or outside overwhelmed clinics, before they have even been seen by a doctor.
In Tamil Nadu, officials announced a two-week lockdown — a day after the southern state saw its biggest daily spike in infections, with 26,465 cases reported on Friday.
Starting Monday, all non-essential shops in the state — including state-owned liquor stores — will be closed. Restaurants can only provide takeout, while grocery stores will open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Food delivery services will also be limited.
A number of Indian states have imposed complete lockdowns this week, from the northwestern state of Rajasthan to Karnataka in the south, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s earlier warning the measure should only be considered as a last resort.
“In today’s situation, we have to save the country from lockdown. I would request states to use a lockdown as their last option. We have to try hard to avoid lockdowns and focus only on micro containment zones,” Modi said in late April.
India imposed one of the world’s largest and harshest lockdowns in March last year, when the country of 1.36 billion people had reported little more than 500 coronavirus cases and 10 related deaths.
The nationwide measure was announced with less than four hours’ notice and little planning, triggering a migrant crisis. It also brought the country’s economic activity to a virtual standstill, and with businesses, factories and construction sites ground to a halt, its economy contracted by 24% from April to June — India’s worst slump since records began in 1996.
According to Associated Press report, at over 300,000, Karnataka’s capital of Bengaluru has the highest active caseload of any Indian city. But experts warn the worst is still ahead as India’s third-largest city buckles under oxygen shortages, overrun hospitals and crowded crematoriums. In Tamil Nadu state, the lockdown announcement followed a daily record of more than 26,000 cases on Friday.
Infections have swelled in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies.