India battles record COVID surge as rallies, Hindu festival draw huge crowds

International

New Delhi, 18 April: India battled a record surge in COVID-19 cases on Friday as hospitals ran out of oxygen and beds, while politicians held election rallies and hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees attended a weeks-long festival, infuriating health officials.

A massive second wave of infections, second only to the United States in total, forced authorities to restrict movement of people in Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities amid growing calls for faster vaccination rollouts.

The 217,353 new cases reported by the health ministry on Friday marked the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days and took the total number of cases to nearly 14.3 million.

The United States has reported more than 31 million infections. Deaths in India rose by 1,185 over the past 24 hours - the highest single-day rise in seven months - to reach a total of 174,308.

Experts have raised concerns about the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, particularly given widespread participation in religious festivals and political rallies. A Lancet study this month estimated that daily deaths in India could double by June.

Hundreds of thousands of ascetics and devout Hindus were gathered along the banks of the Ganges in the northern state of Uttarakhand after a mass dip during a religious festival on Wednesday, hoping to wash away their sins. Hundreds have tested positive.

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