India’s biggest cities shut down amid virus surge
India’s two largest cities imposed stringent restrictions on movement and one planned to use hotels and banquet halls to treat coronavirus patients as new infections in the country shot past 200,000 yesterday amid a devastating surge that is straining a fragile health system.
The soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic — and have forced the country to delay exports of vaccines abroad.
New Delhi announced stay-athome orders for the weekend, though essential workers will be able to move about if they have a pass from local authorities. Restaurants, malls, gyms and spas will be shut down. Movie theatres will close on weekends, but can operate on weekdays at a third of their capacity.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s top elected official, said that despite the rise in infections, 5000 hospital beds are still available in the capital and more capacity is being added. But still, more than a dozen hotels and wedding banquet halls were ordered to be converted into Covid19 centres where doctors from nearby hospitals will treat the moderately ill.
The moves in the capital came after similar measures were imposed in the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital, Mumbai. The bustle of India’s biggest city ebbed after authorities closed most industries, businesses and public places on Thursday and put limits on the movement of people for 15 days. Train and plane travel was still allowed, however. Dozens of other towns and cities have imposed nighttime curfews too.
The surge in cases was weighing on hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and several other states, where many reported a shortage of oxygen tanks. Cremation and burial grounds in the worst-hit areas were finding it difficult to cope with the increasing number of bodies arriving for last rites, according to Indian media reports.
Shahid Jamil, a virologist, said the recent local and state elections with massive political rallies and a major Hindu festival during which hundreds of thousands of devotees bathed in the Ganges river were super-spreader events.
The 200,739 new infections recorded yesterday are about twice the number of daily cases that were recorded during the last peak, in September. The Health Ministry also reported 1038 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the toll over 173,000.