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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

India, swamped by 1 million virus cases, enforces lockdown again

India's coronavirus caseload topped one million, with the United States and Brazil the only other nations with more infections. New lockdowns have been ordered in the giant Asian nation, and fears persist that the healthcare system will collapse completely.

One of India’s most impoverished states went into lockdown Thursday, but near-normal traffic on Bihar’s streets showed the difficulty of corralling over 125 million people.

The lockdown in the northern state bordering Nepal started as India reported more than 600 deaths in the previous 24 hours, and the Red Cross warned the virus was spreading at “an alarming rate” across South Asia.

India’s new and improved lockdown restrictions for Bihar

With India’s caseload fast approaching one million — and fatalities nearing 25,000 — local authorities across the country are reimposing restrictions that have only recently been lifted.

Bihar, a largely rural state with feeble health infrastructure, went into a 15-day lockdown at midnight, a day after IT hub Bangalore — home to 13 million people — shut down for a week.

Read more: Millions back in confinement worldwide, India IT hub locks down

All schools, clubs, temples and non-essential businesses were ordered to close in Bihar, but construction and agricultural activity are allowed to continue.

And while public transport was shut down, private vehicles are still permitted to operate, and the streets of the state capital Patna thronged with cars, lorries, bikes and auto-rickshaws.

“The lockdown is not being fully enforced,” businessman Ranjeet Singh said. Many people were still shopping for food with little regard for social distancing advice.

Goa’s plight against the surging virus

India’s virus cases have surged closer to 1 million forcing a new lockdown in the popular western beach state of Goa, two weeks after it reopened to tourists.

The new confirmed cases took the national total to 968,876. The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported a record number of 606 deaths for a total of 24,915.

The Indian Medical Association said 99 doctors have died and another 1,302 are infected with the coronavirus. It called for shortening of working hours for health workers following safety concerns.

It also said the fatality rate among doctors was 7.6%, much high than the national average of about 2.5%

A lack of coronavirus discipline forced Goa, another Indian state, to announced a three-day shutdown from Thursday evening and a night curfew until August 10.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said too many people were “stepping out to meet people at parties” and that there was a low level of “awareness and sensitivity”.

Read more: India vs China: India calling for China’s Economic Boycott is only a Farcical Reality Show

“We have more than 40,000 people fined for not wearing masks, plus there are many who are detained for flouting rules, but they continue to loiter,” Sawant told local media.

“This only establishes that people only understand the language of the law.”

Only God can save us from ourselves

Bangalore’s lockdown was stricter and the streets were much quieter.

Many firms that handle the back-office operations of global corporations were little affected by the re-imposed restrictions with staff already working from home.

Read more: Coronavirus caseload leaves India blushing

Still, the health minister of Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital, said Wednesday that “only God can save us” as the state’s caseload approached 50,000.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the entire region was fast becoming the next epicentre for the coronavirus.

“While the world’s attention has been focused on the unfolding crisis in the United States and South America, a concurrent human tragedy is fast emerging in South Asia,” the organisation said.

“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in South Asia, home to a quarter of humanity.”

Read more: Lockdown lifted in Bangladesh despite pandemic’s rampage

While India has reported almost 970,000 cases, the pandemic is also still raging in Pakistan and Bangladesh with almost 260,000 and 195,000 cases respectively.

In total the three countries have recorded more than 1.4 million cases and almost 33,000 deaths, according to official figures that many experts say in reality are much higher.

The IFRC also cited a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists – yet to be peer-reviewed – that in six months India could be reporting up to 287,000 cases per day.

The UN aid chief says coronavirus support to poor countries has been “grossly inadequate” so far and urged G20 to step up aid or “pay price later”.

Many experts say however that authorities are not testing nearly enough people and that the official figures underplay the seriousness of the situation.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk