India's capital New Delhi recorded 25,500 coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, with about one in three people tested returning a positive result, its chief minister said, urging the federal government to provide more hospital beds to tackle the crisis.
Less than 100 critical care beds were available in the city of more than 20 million people, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said yesterday, as social media was flooded with people complaining about lack of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs.
"The bigger worry is that in last 24 hours positivity rate has increased to around 30% from 24% ... The cases are rising very rapidly. The beds are filling fast," Kejriwal told a news briefing.
In a separate statement, the city government said it had informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's federal administration about "the dire need of beds and oxygen" and beds were now being set up in schools.
New Delhi, which has imposed a weekend curfew, is among the worst hit cities in India, where a second major wave of coronavirus infections is straining health infrastructure.
Nationwide, India reported 261,500 new cases yesterday, taking the total number of cases to nearly 14.8 million, second only to the United States, which has reported more than 31 million infections. The country's deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 1,501 to reach a total of 177,150.
As cases rise across India, criticism is mounting over how Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has handled the health crisis, as religious festivals and election rallies attended by thousands continue.
India's government relaxed almost all lockdown curbs of last year by the beginning of 2021, although some regions including New Delhi and the state of Maharashtra, home to financial hub Mumbai, have introduced localised restrictions.
While Mumbai remains under curfew on all days as per state guidelines, New Delhi has allowed cinema halls to operate at 30% capacity and people to move freely during weekdays.
"There is no option but to lockdown Delhi for 1-2 weeks," said Dr. Ambrish Mithal, a top doctor of endocrinology and diabetes at hospital operator Max Healthcare, adding that weekend curfews "won't do".
"(The) situation is unmanageable at present," he said on Twitter.
Amid reports of severe shortage of oxygen supplies and critical medicines such as the anti-viral drug Remdesivir, Modi on Saturday asked authorities to pull out all the stops to ramp up production of Covid-19 vaccines and asked his teams to work closely with local governments.
After hundreds of thousands of ascetics and devout Hindus gathered for several days along the banks of the Ganges for a religious festival Kumbh Mela, Modi on Saturday called for restraint, saying on Twitter the festival should now be kept "symbolic".
Responding to Modi's appeal, one of the religious leaders Swami Avdheshanand urged devotees to not gather in large numbers.
Those returning to Mumbai from the Kumbh Mela will have to quarantine, the city mayor said.
Experts have warned about the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, especially during large-scale gatherings for religious festivals and political rallies.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi - who has also addressed election rallies in recent weeks - said yesterday he was suspending all his public rallies in West Bengal.
Amit Shah, the government's interior minister and Modi's close aide, addressed an election rally in the state yesterday which was attended by thousands of people, few of whom followed social distancing norms, according to a video on his Twitter account.
The Delhi government will likely extend the weekend lockdown, sources say. The decision is expected to be announced after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal's meeting over the Covid situation today.
At the start of the year, India thought it had beaten the pandemic and had kicked off a mass vaccination drive.
Face masks and social distancing were cast aside and huge crowds flocked to religious festivals and election rallies.
But in hospitals, doctors started warning of a rise in cases, including a new phenomenon -- younger patients -- for a disease usually viewed as riskier for older adults.