India’s brutal second Covid-19 wave far from over as it records worst death toll to date

More than 4,500 people have died in the past 24 hours and about 250,000 were newly infected as vaccination drive falters

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India reported its highest number of daily coronavirus deaths yet on Wednesday as the country struggled to keep vaccination momentum.

The number of deaths exceeded the single-day toll in any other country, at any time, since the pandemic began.

Rural communities are bearing the brunt of India’s second wave.

The Health Ministry reported a record 4,529 deaths in the past 24 hours, driving the country’s confirmed fatalities to 283,248. It also reported 267,334 new infections, as daily cases remained below 300,000 for the third consecutive day.

The numbers are almost certainly undercounted, because activists and health workers say people are dying in rural villages before testing can be carried out.

The previous record for the most daily deaths from the coronavirus was set on January 12 in the US, when 4,475 people died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

With more than  25 million cases since the pandemic began, India’s tally of confirmed infections is second only to that of the US.

India is also struggling to maintain its rate of vaccinations. The number of doses administered daily has fallen by about half over the past six weeks, from a high of four million a day on April 2 to about two million or fewer this week.

Experts say new infections in India, which had been rising steeply, may at last be slowing. But deaths continue to rise and hospitals are crowded with patients. In the past month, India’s Covid-19 fatalities have increased sixfold.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity has fallen sharply amid the crisis, with hospitals overwhelmed and Indians begging for help on social media.

US data intelligence company Morning Consult’s tracker of a dozen global leaders found Mr Modi’s overall ratings this week stand at 63 per cent, his lowest since it began tracking his popularity in August 2019. The big decline happened in April, when net approval fell by 22 points.

Another survey among urban Indians by polling agency YouGov this month showed public confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis has plummeted since February, when the second wave began.

It showed only 59 per cent of respondents at the end of April believed the government was handling the crisis “very” or “somewhat” well, down from 89 per cent a year earlier during the first wave.