India’s COVID-19 surge hits highs not seen in months

New York: India, racing to contain a second wave of the coronavirus, recorded its biggest single-day spike since October: 62,714 cases in the past 24 hours.

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The uptick, which was especially high in the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, comes as more people ease up on public health measures like wearing masks and social distancing. Authorities in Maharashtra imposed night curfews on Sunday to tackle the record surge with the financial capital Mumbai reporting 6,123 new cases, the highest single-day spike since March last year.

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Officials say the relaxed attitude could be one factor in the increase. Single-day figures sometimes contain anomalies, but the country’s seven-day average of new cases, a more reliable gauge, has been rising sharply since early March, surpassing 41,500 for the first time since late November.

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The resurgence of the coronavirus, which was once seemingly in retreat, is prompting health officials and law enforcement agencies to review and adopt more stringent measures to try to stem the spread. Health care workers are particularly worried as people crowd at bazaars and gather to celebrate festivals like Holi.

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India has directed regional governments to deploy law enforcement officials to ensure that people are wearing masks and maintaining distance. The country has also curtailed exports of COVID-19 vaccines, causing a setback for inoculation drives in other countries, especially in poorer ones that do not have the infrastructure to produce their own.

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Desperate situation

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With infections topping 50,000 per day, more than double the number less than two weeks ago, India is desperate for all the vaccine doses it can get. The country’s vaccine drive has been sluggish, with less than 4 per cent of its nearly 1.4 billion people getting a shot – far behind the rates of the United States, Britain and most European countries.

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The latest surge is crippling life in several regions of Maharashtra, which has recorded 2.6 million cases, the highest number in the country. The state is home to densely populated Mumbai, the country’s financial hub, where millions live, sometimes in very close quarters. The Dharavi slum was sealed off for nearly two months during the first wave of infections.

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Even as cases rose in the city, business continued as usual in some areas. But entire districts of the state are back into lockdown, and the government in Maharashtra is imposing a nightly curfew starting Sunday. Malls will close at 8pm.

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As of Saturday morning, India had reported at least 11.9 million cases and 161,240 deaths, according to a New York Times database. Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood star Aamir Khan are among those who have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days.

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