India set another global record for infections with 379,257 new cases and 3,645 new deaths being recorded in the 24 hours ending Thursday morning. Overall, there have now been more than 18 million cases. The total number of deaths in India now stands at 204,832.
Experts believe even these huge figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much. India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections.
Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge. And the country’s already teetering health system is under immense strain, prompting some 40 countries to pledge help to India.
Despite the engulfing crisis, Mr Modi urged people to come out and vote in line with Covid-19 protocols and “enrich the festival of democracy”. He has faced criticism, at home and internationally, for addressing tens of thousands of people at election rallies during an overwhelming crisis. Other political parties have also participated in election rallies.
Political rallies and religious events have been allowed to continue, despite the second wave of the pandemic raging through the country.
The Election Commission of India had announced eight phases in the West Bengal elections spread over 34 days. Seven phases are already over and Covid-19 cases are continuing to rise in the state.
West Bengal recorded 17,207 coronavirus cases and 77 deaths on Wednesday, the highest number of infections and deaths recorded in the state since the start of the pandemic. West Bengal has the highest Covid-19 growth rate of any state in India at present, according to a Scroll analysis.
Doctors have already said that hospitals in West Bengal are under immense pressure due to a rise in the number of cases.
The Election Commission of India has been facing a backlash for failing to enforce Covid-appropriate norms during political rallies. The Madras High Court censured the commission for being “the most irresponsible over the last few months in not stopping political parties from wanton abuse of the Covid-19 protocol”.
The court also observed that the Election Commission should probably be held responsible for “murder”.
“Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid-19. Your officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” the court told the commission, according to NDTV.
More than 8 million people are eligible to vote in at least 11,860 polling stations across the state.
The Election Commission has now announced a ban on victory processions after votes are counted on 2 May.
Four candidates contesting in the West Bengal elections have so far died of Covid-19.
The widow of one of the candidates, Kajal Sinha, has filed a murder case against the Election Commission, according to NDTV. She wrote in her complaint that while the entire nation was “struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis,”, the commission decided hold an eight-phase election.
Earlier this week, it was announced that all Indians aged 18 and over were allowed to register on a government app for vaccinations, but social media was flooded with complaints the app had crashed due to high use, and once it was working again, no appointments were available.
The vaccinations are supposed to start on Saturday, but India, one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, does not yet have enough doses for everyone.
An ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is also stuttering.
One state, Maharashtra, has already said it won’t be able to start on Saturday. Since January, nearly 10 per cent of Indians have received one jab, but only around 1.5 per cent have received both required doses.
On Thursday, India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters that the country is facing an “unprecedented” second surge with over three million active cases that have pushed the health system close to collapse, causing the acute shortages of oxygen and other hospital supplies.
The US has said it will send more than $100m worth of items, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders.
Russia has sent two aircraft carrying oxygen generating equipment, Shringla said.
Meanwhile, the US has advised its citizens to leave India.
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