South Asia’s hopes of surviving the pandemic have been shattered, with India reporting over two million new cases this month alone, with Bangladesh and Pakistan still introducing curfews.
India added another record 234,000 cases on Saturday, bringing the number to 14.5 million, and 1,341 deaths brought the pandemic total to 175,649 deaths.
The per-capita rates remain low by international standards, but the pace at which cases are increasing has prompted the International Red Cross to label the South Asian boom “truly frightening”
India now has three times the number of cases every day as the United States, the world’s worst-affected region.
Following the economic downturn caused by a national lockout a year ago, the Indian government is anxious to avert a second stoppage. However, Delhi, like Mumbai, has ordered the closure of all but critical services.
Landmarks such as the historic Red Fort where tens of thousands of people would normally gather were deserted. “Not one person has turned up,” said security guard Anil Dayan. Police checked many of the cars that strayed onto the streets.
The city of more than 20 million people now has the most daily cases in India and restaurants, malls and gyms were all closed. Weddings can go ahead with guests limited to 50 people, while only 20 can attend funerals.
“Don’t panic. All essential services will be available through the weekend,” Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said.
Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, Gujarat and IT hub Bangalore’s home state Karnataka have also imposed restrictions on movement.
Uttar Pradesh state, home to some 240 million people, has ordered a one-day lockdown on Sunday.
– Festival fears –
Similarly, the northern state of Uttarakhand has restricted gatherings to 200 people — but exempted the huge Hindu Kumbh Mela festival.
After January, the meeting in Haridwar has drawn up to 25 million participants, including 4.6 million this week alone, with the majority of attendees ignoring Covid-19 guidelines.
More than 1,600 people tested positive for coronavirus in Haridwar in just three days this week, and experts are concerned that many devotees will bring the virus back to their hometowns and villages.
The latest round of voting in the West Bengal state election also took place, with long lines emerging outside polling stations. Rival parties have held massive demonstrations in recent weeks, fueling concerns of a super-spreader once more.
In the state capital Kolkata, railway employee Samaresh Tapna fell sick after attending one such gathering and was hospitalised.
“I felt angry with myself… I cursed my fate,” the 42-year-old told AFP.
– Medicines run short –
Hospitals are running out of oxygen and commonly available medications like Remdesivir and Fabiflu, forcing distressed patients to pay exorbitant black market prices.
Social media is rife with horror tales about loved ones in need of emergency care with Covid-19 or other ailments.
“I lost a cousin on Saturday. He was not admitted after a stroke. Tried 4 hospitals,” read one message on a Delhi neighbourhood WhatsApp group this week.
India’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people has also hit obstacles, with just 117 million shots administered so far and stocks running low, according to some local authorities.
“This is a wake-up call to the world. Vaccines must be available to everyone, everywhere, rich and poor to overcome this terrible pandemic,” said Udaya Regmi from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), describing conditions in South Asia as “truly frightening”.
“We must redouble our efforts to contain this disease as too many lives are at stake,” Regmi added.