GHAZIABAD: A family member carries a patient breathing with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara under a tent installed along a road.—AFP
GHAZIABAD: A family member carries a patient breathing with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara under a tent installed along a road.—AFP

SATARA: India halted its hugely popular cricket league on Tuesday as Covid-19 infections surged past 20 million in the world’s second-most populous country and the opposition leader said a nationwide lockdown was now the only way out.

Cricket officials suspended the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL) as the pandemic spirals out of control, with the country adding 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach the first 10 million.

“While we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the IPL said.

With 3.45 million active cases, India recorded 357,229 new infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 3,449 to 222,408, health ministry data showed.

The country records 357,229 new infections in last 24 hours

With hospitals running out of beds and oxygen and morgues and crematoria overflowing, experts say the actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.

According to a Reuters tally, total infections were more than 20.2 million, second only to the United States.

“The only way to stop the spread of corona now is a full lockdown ... GOIs inaction is killing many innocent people,” opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to the government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, widely criticised for allowing religious festivals and political gatherings attended by hundreds of thousands of largely unmasked people, is reluctant to impose a national lockdown for fear of the economic fallout, but several states have imposed social curbs.

The eastern state of Bihar ordered a lockdown until May 15, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said. With more than 100,000 infections, its death toll is nearing 3,000, government figures show.

Glimmer of hope

The IPL tournament, with an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion, was being played without spectators to a huge television audience in the cricket-obsessed nation but has been severely criticised for continuing while the healthcare system is falling apart.

The surge of the highly infectious Indian variant of the coronavirus has swamped hospitals and depleted supplies of oxygen, while sufferers have died in ambulances and car parks.

Rows of funeral pyres set up in parks and other open spaces are being used to cremate the overflow of corpses.

A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court has been holding almost daily video conferences to hear petitions from hospitals seeking oxygen and invoking India’s constitutional right to protection of life.

But some hope surfaced in comments on Monday by a health ministry official who said infections in some regions were levelling out.

Government modelling points to a peak by Wednesday, a few days earlier than thought, since the virus has spread faster than expected.

India’s surge has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations due to supply and delivery problems.

At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, reported scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres. On Monday the state had injected 79,491 doses, after a record 534,372 a week ago.

In Modi’s adjoining home state of Gujarat, the three largest cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara limited vaccines to those aged between 18 and 44, officials said.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2021

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