KOLKATA: An Indian state stricken by coronavirus after mass rallies were held for a key election ordered a two-week lockdown on Saturday in a bid to halt the spread.
All offices, stores and public transport in West Bengal were told to close for 15 days after the region reported its biggest spike yet in deaths and infections.
West Bengal along with a host of southern states are bearing the brunt of a COVID-19 surge in India that has taken the nation’s infection total to nearly 25 million with more than 265,000 deaths.
The strain of the virus responsible has been declared a variant of “global concern” by the World Health Organization.
West Bengal accounted for 21,000 of India’s 326,000 new cases reported on Saturday and hospitals in the state say they are swamped with patients.
In the past 24 hours, India tally of COVID-19 cases reached 24.37 million, with 3,890 deaths, for a toll of 266,207, Health Ministry data shows. Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew tens of thousands of people to rallies in the region last month ahead of state elections in which his ruling nationalist party failed to unseat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee also staged major rallies ahead of the polls and on Friday her brother died from coronavirus in hospital.
Many experts have said the election campaign was a “super-spreader.”
In the resort state of Goa, more than 70 people have died in four days from medical oxygen shortages at hospitals, an opposition party in the region said.
A court ordered emergency supplies of oxygen to be sent to Goa Medical College Hospital to prevent more deaths.
The state’s main opposition party said the patients died from a lack of oxygen but the government said the cause of death had not been determined.
Goa authorities nevertheless said they had asked the central government to nearly double the state’s oxygen supply to 40 tons per day.
Coronavirus restrictions in Goa had been relatively relaxed until the current wave of infections.
The virus is now causing more than 60 deaths a day in the region and Goa has one of India’s highest infection rates.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s chief said India was a huge concern, with the second year of the pandemic set to be more deadly than the first.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s remarks to an online meeting came after Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the disease through the vast countryside.
India reported its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in nearly three weeks on Saturday, with deaths still near the 4,000-mark, but federal health officials said cases and fatalities are rapidly stabilizing in this wave
of the pandemic.
The overall rate of positive cases per tests had dipped to 19.8 percent this week from 21.9 percent last week, federal health officials said in a briefing, but warned that cautiousness must continue.
The slow growth may also reflect test rates that are at their lowest since May 9.
Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS Hospital in Delhi, warned that secondary infections like mucormycosis or “black fungus” were adding to India’s mortality rate with states having reported more than 500 cases recently in COVID-19 patients with diabetes.
Earlier in the day, Modi told officials to focus on distributing resources including oxygen supplies in the hard-hit rural areas, according to a government statement.
He also called for more testing in India’s vast countryside, which is witnessing a rapid spread of the virus, it added.
Four thousand WHO-supported oxygen concentrators arrived in Delhi on Saturday and will be rushed to states over the next 2-3 days to support the COVID-19 response, Tedros tweeted.
During the past week, the south Asian nation has added about 1.7 million new cases and more than 20,000 deaths in a second wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and medical staff.