Lockdown calls mount in India as Covid cases and deaths hold close to record

Hospitals are still grappling with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds, while morgues and crematoriums overflow

Calls grew for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs on Monday, increasing pressure on the federal government.

The health ministry reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths, off a little from recent peaks. India's tally of infections now stands at 22.66 million, with 246,116 deaths.

As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India's actual figures could be far higher than reported.

The 1.47 million samples tested on Sunday for Covid-19 were this month's lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.

Many states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month, while others have adopted curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.

But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as he did during the first wave of infections last year.

He is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.

"A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions," Vipin Narang, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, said on Twitter.

On Sunday, top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said he had advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.

"You’ve got to shut down," Mr Fauci said on ABC's "This Week" television show. "I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down."

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also called for a "complete, well-planned, pre-announced" lockdown.

Family members perform the last rites of a Covid-19 victim at a makeshift cremation ground in New Delhi. EPA
Family members perform the last rites of a Covid-19 victim at a makeshift cremation ground in New Delhi. EPA

New Delhi, the capital, entered the fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.

"This is not the time to be lenient," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.

"This phase is so tough, this wave is so dangerous, so many people are dying...the priority at this hour is to save lives," he said in a televised address.

Late on Sunday, the northern state of Uttarakhand said it would impose curfew from Tuesday until May 18, just days after mass religious gatherings held in the state became virus super spreading events.

Shops selling fruits, vegetables and dairy items will stay open for some hours in the morning, while malls, gyms, theatres, bars and liquor shops are among the enterprises that will be shut, the government said.

Updated: May 10, 2021 11:04 AM

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