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India’s capital to lockdown amid new record rise in Covid-19 cases, deaths

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India has reported a record rise in coronavirus infections of 273,810, as its capital New Delhi announces a total lockdown starting Monday night, 19 April, and hospitals across the country struggle with a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies.

The country’s deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 1,619 to reach a total of 178,769, according to health ministry data on Monday.

India has the fourth-highest number of deaths after the United States, Brazil and Mexico though, with nearly 1.4 billion people, it has a much larger population than those countries. India’s overall coronavirus caseload is now past 15 million, second only to the US globally.

The Indian capital will be under a strict lockdown for six days starting on Monday night, Delhi state’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said, adding the healthcare system was at a breaking point because of the worsening Covid-19 outbreak.

“If we don’t impose a lockdown now, we will be looking at a bigger disaster. From tonight there will be a lockdown until next Monday,” Kejriwal said.

“I do not say that the system has collapsed, but it has reached its limits,” he said, adding that harsh measures were necessary to “prevent a collapse of the health system”.

Several major market associations in the city, which is among the country’s worst-hit, have announced that they will keep their markets closed till April 25.

According to India’s health ministry, Delhi reported 25,462 cases and 161 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Kejriwal also said the capital was also facing acute shortages of hospital beds and key medicines such as the anti-viral redeliver.

“The cases are rising very fast, only 100 beds left,” Kejriwal said on Sunday in a video statement, adding that additional beds would be set up at some schools and a sports complex.

Indian social media was flooded with people complaining about the lack of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs, and citizen groups circulating helpline numbers and volunteering support.

Despite soaring infections, politicians continued to hold mass rallies across the country for state elections.

Criticism has mounted over how prime minister Narendra Modi’s administration has handled India’s second wave of the pandemic, with religious festivals and election rallies being attended by thousands.

Leaders including home minister Amit Shah are set to hold further roadshows and public meetings on Monday.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who has also addressed election rallies in recent weeks said on Sunday he was suspending all his public rallies in West Bengal state, which is in the middle of polls.

India’s soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic, but experts say even these figures are likely an undercount.

Nearly 3,700 people have tested positive in the past week in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the Ganges river where the Kumbh Mela festival is being observed, the Uttarakhand state government said.

Health experts have warned the pilgrimage could become a “super-spreader” event.

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