India is grappling with an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, tallying 145,000 cases in a new daily record on Saturday, according to authorities. Deaths in one day — 794 — hit a five-month high.
It was the fifth time the number of cases broke a record in India this week, surging past 100,000 each time as the pandemic continued to spread. Hospitals and crematoria were overwhelmed in parts of the country, Reuters reported.
The nation’s 13.2 million total cases are now only behind the U.S. (31.1 million cases) and Brazil (3.4 million cases).
India’s total COVID-19 death toll as of Saturday was 168,436. It’s a relatively low death rate, given the population, which some experts attribute to the nation’s younger population. The U.S. death toll, with a far smaller population, is 561,780, and Brazil’s is 351,334. Mexico’s is 209,212.
Authorities in Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest number of cases, have ordered a weekend lockdown, and some major cities, including Mumbai and New Delhi, have imposed nighttime curfews, according to Reuters.
Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a jam-packed election rally of thousands of people, most without masks, in the eastern state of West Bengal on Saturday.
Authorities blame the high numbers on packed, maskless crowds in several localities, and poor distribution of an inadequate number of vaccines. Immunization centers were running out of vaccines and turning people away, Bloomberg reported.
India is the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, and has so far administered 97.5 million doses. But it’s home to 1.37 billion people.
Surgeon and leading liver transplant specialist Arvinder Singh Soin is among a number of medical experts who have criticized the government for its lag in approving other vaccines to boost supply.
“We need to immediately facilitate the approval of the next lot of vaccines,” Soin said on Twitter. “Insistence on bridging trials data not relevant anymore given the situation. Millions have had these all over the world.”
In the U.S., meanwhile, daily COVID-19 cases hit a two-week high Saturday, pushed by a surge in the Midwest, according to Bloomberg.
Global cases now number more than 135 million, with deaths at 2.92 million.
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