Coronavirus: lockdown in Maharashtra as India's daily cases rise past 100,000

Government sounds alarm after surge in Covid-19 infections in recent weeks

People wait to board passenger buses during rush hour at a bus terminal amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, April 5, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni
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India on Monday reported more than 100,000 Covid-19 infections over the previous 24 hours, a record increase that pushed its richest state to shut malls and restaurants for the rest of April.

Maharashtra, which includes the financial hub of Mumbai and contributes about 15 per cent of national economic output, will halt all non-essential services from 8pm on Monday. Private offices were asked to work from home, with some allowances made for banks and stock exchanges.

The federal Health Ministry reported 103,558 new infections on Monday.

“There is an alarming rate of growth of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said at the weekend.

India, with nearly 12.6 million infections and more than 165,000 deaths, has reported the third highest number of cases since the pandemic began last year, after the US and Brazil.

India's daily infections have risen about 12-fold since hitting a multi-month low in early February, when the authorities eased most restrictions and people largely stopped wearing masks and following social distancing.

As infection numbers continue to spiral, five Indian states are in the middle of local elections.  Thousands of people are thronging to campaign rallies, while the northern state of Uttarakhand is hosting the month-long Hindu pilgrimage of the Kumbh Mela, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to the banks of the Ganges.

Maharashtra is the centre of the new outbreak, accounting for 57 per cent of new infections over the past 14 days and 47 per cent of deaths during that period. More than half of the state’s hospital beds are occupied and the authorities are saying that healthcare systems could be overwhelmed in 15-20 days unless the rate of growth is curbed significantly.

The region of 110 million people will also impose weekend lockdowns, with gatherings of more than four people banned. Private offices, restaurants, cinemas, swimming pools, bars, places of worship and public areas will be shut.

India, the world's biggest maker of vaccines, has administered 77 million doses since starting its campaign in the middle of January – the third-highest after the US and China.

The vaccination programme was recently expanded from health workers and people most at risk of death to anyone over 45. Per capita vaccinations, however, are lower than many other countries.

In a meeting held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, officials discussed raising the country's vaccine output further.

"It was highlighted that all efforts are under way to secure adequate quantities of vaccines to meet the rising domestic requirements as well as to meet the genuine needs of other countries," his office said.

Asia’s third-largest economy slumped into a recession last year after Mr Modi announced a sudden and strict nationwide lockdown in March. Most experts attribute the resurgence in infections to residents breaking health and safety rules after the lockdown was eased.

Some officials blamed a new infectious strain of the coronavirus, although this has not been proven.

The country has made little progress in sequencing its test samples, with news reports stating that less than 1 per cent of samples have been studied so far.