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The Financial Express

India's daily virus cases hit record as pilgrims gather for religious festival

| Updated: April 15, 2021 15:46:40


Naga Sadhus, or Hindu holy men participate in a procession to take a dip in the Ganges river during Shahi Snan at "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Haridwar, India on April 14, 2021 — Reuters photo Naga Sadhus, or Hindu holy men participate in a procession to take a dip in the Ganges river during Shahi Snan at "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), in Haridwar, India on April 14, 2021 — Reuters photo

India’s new coronavirus infections reached a record on Wednesday, as crowds of pilgrims gathered for a religious festival despite oxygen shortages and strict curbs in other areas.

The country reported 184,372 cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed, taking total infections to 13.9 million. Deaths rose by 1,027, for a toll of 172,085.

After reporting less than 10,000 cases per day earlier this year, India has been the world's worst-hit country since April 2. The government blames a widespread failure to heed curbs on movement and social interaction.

India’s richest state, Maharashtra, the epicentre of the national second wave, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s cases, is due to enter a full lockdown at midnight local time (1830GMT) until the end of April to try to contain the spread.

On Wednesday the state’s commercial centre, Mumbai, was bustling with shoppers, stocking up before the lockdown comes into effect.

“We don’t know if we will be allowed to set up our stalls from tomorrow, so we’re asking our customers to stock up as much as possible today,” said Susheela, a street vegetable vendor, who goes by only her first name.

There were snaking lines outside many grocery stores as residents waited to enter.

Elsewhere, over-stretched private hospitals are turning patients away, placing an increasing burden on government facilities.

In the western state of Gujurat, local media showed a long queue of ambulances waiting outside Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, with some patients being treated there while they waited.

A hospital source, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak publicly, said a lot of private hospitals were short of oxygen and were sending their patients to the public hospital.

Still, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus gathered to bathe in the Ganges river on Wednesday, the third day of the weeks-long Kumbh Mela festival.

Sanjay Gunjyal, the inspector general of police at the festival, said around 650,000 people had bathed on Wednesday morning.

“People are being fined for not following social distancing in non-crowded ghats (bathing areas), but it is very hard to fine people in the main ghats, which are very crowded,” he said.

There was little evidence of social distancing or mask-wearing, according to a Reuters witness.

More than a thousand cases have been reported in Haridwar district in the last two days, according to government data.

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