Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party lost a key state in elections over the weekend amid mounting criticism of his handling of the country’s worsening Covid-19 crisis.
On Monday, India recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the 12th straight day, bringing the country’s total infections to nearly 20 million, according to Health Ministry figures. Experts fear that the real number may be 10 times higher in the nation of over 1.35 billion people.
The country also reported over 218,000 deaths Monday, the third highest death toll in the world after the United States and Brazil.
Hospitals across India have continued to grapple with a lack of medical oxygen supplies and beds in intensive care units, as entire families who've tested positive flood hospitals. This has left hospitals overwhelmed, with patients dying due to shortages in supplies.
Meanwhile, a court in New Delhi has said that it will punish government officials if allocated oxygen supplies are not delivered to hospitals, reported the Associated Press.
India, a country that has been manufacturing vaccines for the rest of the world, has been facing a shortage domestically. The government announced last week that vaccination centers in Mumbai had to shut because of a dwindling supply.
Despite Modi’s frequent visits to the state of West Bengal in the past weeks to campaign, his Bharatiya Janata Party did not win the election. Experts have said the party’s massive rallies, alongside mass gatherings for religious congregations like the month-long Kumbh Mela in Haridwar have exacerbated the spread of the virus.
Modi's party also lost in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but won in Puducherry, and retained power in the northeastern state of Assam.
Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is set to win the state for the third time. Speaking in a press conference in West Bengal’s capital Kolkata, Banarjee said that battling Covid-19 would be the priority for her government in the state with a population of almost 100 million.
India also broke a world-record over the weekend by crossing 400,000 daily infections in a single day, as Modi’s government receives criticism for failing to prepare for this painful second wave.
The pressure on Modi is growing internationally as well as domestically. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Indian Express newspaper that for India to combat the “very difficult and desperate situation,” a temporary shut down of the country would be a necessary measure.
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“No one likes to lock down the country. Well, that’s a problem when you do it for six months,” he said. “But if you do it just for a few weeks, you could have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.”
Although a number of states in India, including the capital New Delhi, have enacted independent lockdowns in the last few weeks, the government has not imposed a national lockdown similar to the one implemented in March 2020.
In its fight against the virus, India has been receiving aid and supplies from several countries including the U.S.. Administration officials said they are sending oxygen equipment, raw materials for vaccine production as well as rapid testing kits. The United States Agency for International Development tweeted that a fourth U.S. plane carrying 20,000 rounds of treatment medicine Remdesivir had arrived in India on Monday.
Numerous countries however, have also imposed travel restrictions on India, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand, among others.