India’s virus surge pressures Modi to impose strict lockdown

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New Delhi

With coronavirus cases still surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough.

Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen.

Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead. On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The health ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083.

Experts believe both figures are an undercount. The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.

Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India’s 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year.

Modi, who held consultations with top elected leaders and officials of the worst-hit states on Thursday, has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus to poorly equipped state governments.

Dr Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said a complete, aggressive lockdown is needed in India just like last year, especially in areas where more than 10 per cent of those tested have contracted Covid-19.

Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that different states were experiencing different intensities of the epidemic, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.

According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated by the centre. “Like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments,” he said.—AFP

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