Devastating virus wave impacts Indian politics


NEW DELHI (AP) — India recorded 368,147 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, including 3,417 deaths, as a catastrophic wave sweeps across the country.

The latest figures came after leaders of 13 opposition parties wrote a letter urging the government to launch a free vaccination campaign as well as ensure an uninterrupted flow of oxygen to all hospitals. Over the weekend, several hospital authorities sought court intervention over the oxygen supply in New Delhi, where the lockdown was extended for another week to contain the wave of infections.

“The water passed over the head. Enough is enough,” the New Delhi High Court said, adding that it would start punishing government officials if oxygen supplies allocated to hospitals were not delivered.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the outbreak, which has pushed India’s already fragile and underfunded health system to the brink. Massive election rallies organized by the Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties as well as a giant Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges may have exacerbated the spread, experts said, adding that new variants could also increase cases.

Modi’s party suffered a resounding electoral defeat in key state West Bengal on Sunday after it failed to unseat its incendiary chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The BJP retained power in the northeastern state of Assam but lost in two southern states.

While the four states were already tough electoral challenges for the BJP outside of the pandemic, analysts say the results weaken Modi’s position as surging infections weaken the already fragile healthcare system.

India has confirmed 19.9 million cases of infection since the start of the pandemic, behind only the United States, which has more than 32.4 million. More than 218,000 people in India have died from COVID-19, according to the health ministry. Both figures are thought to be vast undercounts.

India opened its vaccination campaign for people aged 18 to 44 on Saturday, a daunting task undermined by limited supplies. India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, but even ongoing efforts to inoculate people over 45 are stuttering. Since January, 10% of Indians have received one dose, but only around 1.5% have received the required two doses.


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