Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

Nearly 142,000 new daily infections are being recorded in the country as politicians address packed rallies in front of upcoming polls.

India has reported 141,986 new daily COVID-19 cases – the most since the end of May – as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus surpasses the Delta version in major cities.

The Ministry of Health also reported 285 new deaths on Saturday, bringing the total to 483,463 and the total infections stood at 35.37 million.

Coronavirus cases fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant are being shot down by India, which has urged the federal government and states to quickly reintroduce a series of restrictions.

Evening clock rules are back as restaurants and bars operate at half their capacity. Some states have closed schools and cinemas and large gatherings need to be reduced.

But India’s political leaders are on the campaign trail ahead of important state polls, addressing packed rallies of tens of thousands of people, many without masks.

The scenes are strikingly similar to last year’s election season, when the Delta variant devastated the country and made India one of the world’s worst hit countries.

Last year’s boom was fueled in part by large crowds at election rallies, where politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, often appeared without masks and addressed swarming crowds.

That wave has hurt the country’s health system, with people begging for oxygen and hospital beds. Crematoria no longer had space. Daily deaths exceeded 4,000 during the peak of the crisis, with at least 200,000 people dying between March and May, a number that is widely believed to be a large undercount.

Warning from officials

Health officials say the new boom is causing fewer deaths and many cases are asymptomatic. But they warn against taking the Omicron variant too lightly and say numerous cases, even if lighter, could still put the country’s fragile health system under pressure.

In general, new daily cases have quadrupled in the past week. Hospital admissions are increasing and medical staff in some states have been asked to cut their winter vacations short.

Cities are experiencing a massive boom, with Mumbai, India’s financial capital, surpassing its previous highest daily score. New COVID-19 cases in five states plunged into election campaigns – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur – have skyrocketed.

Over the past few weeks, Modi has addressed major rallies in several cities, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state ruled by its Bharatiya Janata party. The party’s political opponents also hit the campaign’s trail, disregarding health guidelines.

Earlier this week, the Congress Party organized a marathon in which thousands of people ran without masks and were so tightly packed that they collapsed on top of each other.

New Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal contracted the virus after being seen without a mask while leading political rallies in several states.

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