India recorded 217,353 new COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days.
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the health ministry’s data showed.
With a total tally of nearly 14.3 million, India this week overtook Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of cases worldwide after the United States.
India’s daily coronavirus caseload has doubled in 10 days, as authorities grapple with shortages of vaccines, treatments and hospital beds.
Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and crowds at cricket matches, India is experiencing a vicious second wave, recording almost two million fresh infections this month alone.
After a nationwide lockdown a year ago caused widespread misery and one of the sharpest downturns of any big economy, the government is desperate to avoid repeating the hugely unpopular shutdown.
But many states are tightening the screws, in particular Maharashtra, which this week introduced tougher restrictions for its 125 million people.
This has prompted many migrant workers to flee Maharashtra capital Mumbai and other cities in the state, in scenes reminiscent of the exodus last year when the government halted all activities overnight.
The national capital, New Delhi, on Thursday became the latest to impose a weekend curfew and ordering shopping malls, gyms and spas to stay shut from Friday evening.
The 22 million city of Delhi recorded more than 17,000 fresh cases on Wednesday, its highest single-day tally since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh, a northern Indian state with a population of more than 240 million, also imposed curfews in important cities as it scrambled to control a recent surge in cases – with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath admitted to hospital with the coronavirus infection on Thursday.
Shortage: Beds, Oxygen, Remdesivir, Vaccines
Indian hospitals are now struggling to cope, running short of beds, oxygen and coronavirus medicines like remdesivir.
In a new disturbing trend, doctors across the most-affected cities told AFP news agency they had seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients aged below 45 and suffering from more severe symptoms compared with last year.
“We are also seeing children under the ages of 12 and 15 being admitted with symptoms in the second wave. Last year there were practically no children presenting symptoms,” said Khusrav Bajan, a consultant at Mumbai’s PD Hinduja National Hospital.
The country’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people has also hit obstacles, with just 114 million shots administered so far and stocks running low, according to local authorities.
New Delhi has put the brakes on exports from the Serum Institute of India – which has supplied dozens of nations with vaccines – to prioritise domestic needs.
Even as infections soar, several religious festivals are continuing, including the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in northern India, which has seen almost five million mostly maskless Hindu pilgrims massing on the banks of the holy Ganges River this week.
“Our faith is the biggest thing for us. It is because of that strong belief that so many people have come here to take a dip in Ganga,” Siddharth Chakrapani, a member of one of the Kumbh Mela organising committees, told AFP.
“They believe that Maa [mother] Ganga will save them from this pandemic.”
Many crematoriums are also struggling, according to reports.