(ABC NEWS) – India’s capital region of New Delhi has ordered a six-day lockdown as daily COVID-19 cases nationwide hit a new record and the health system crumbled under the weight of new infections.
New Delhi is among the worst hit cities in India, where a second major wave of coronavirus infections is straining health infrastructure.
New Delhi which has a population of over 20 million has less than 100 critical care beds left available, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, as social media was flooded with complaints.
“Delhi’s health system is unable to take more patients in big numbers,” Mr Kejriwal told a virtual press briefing on Monday.
“If a lockdown isn’t implemented now the situation will go beyond control.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled a planned trip to India next week due to the pandemic, his office said.
India’s hospitals are struggling with a shortage of beds, oxygen and key medicines as infections pass the 15 million mark, second only to the United States.
Daily COVID-19 cases in India jumped a record 273,810 on Monday. Deaths rose a record 1,619 to 178,769.
“The bigger worry is that in last 24 hours positivity rate has increased to around 30 per cent from 24 per cent … The cases are rising very rapidly. The beds are filling fast,” Mr Kejriwal said.
In a separate statement, the city government said it had informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government about “the dire need of beds and oxygen” and that beds were now being set up in schools.
Mr Kejriwal also claimed New Delhi’s oxygen supply quota had been cut to be diverted to other states.
Over the last week, Twitter in India has been awash with requests for help across the country as several states face shortages of critical supplies.
Prime Minister under fire
As cases rise across India, criticism is mounting over how Mr Modi’s administration has handled the health crisis, with religious festivals and election rallies attended by thousands allowed to continue.
India’s government relaxed almost all lockdown curbs of last year by the beginning of 2021, although some regions including New Delhi and the state of Maharashtra, home to financial hub Mumbai, have introduced localised restrictions.
While Mumbai remains under curfew on all days as per state guidelines, New Delhi has allowed cinema halls to operate at 30 per cent capacity and people to move freely during weekdays.
“There is no option but to lock down Delhi for one to two weeks,” said Dr Ambrish Mithal, a top doctor of endocrinology and diabetes at hospital operator Max Healthcare, adding that weekend curfews “won’t do”.
“[The] situation is unmanageable at present,” he said on Twitter.
Amid reports of severe shortage of oxygen supplies and critical medicines such as the anti-viral drug Remdesivir, Mr Modi on Saturday asked authorities to pull out all stops to ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccines.
But opposition parties, including the Congress party, criticised Mr Modi for addressing large election rallies to help his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the state assembly election in the eastern state of West Bengal.
Addressing a large gathering of his supporters in West Bengal on Saturday, Mr Modi said: “I can see a sea of masses. I haven’t seen a rally like this.”
The Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, which is in power in New Delhi, mocked Mr Modi’s political rallies by posting pictures on social media of funeral pyres at overburdened crematoriums of the city.
“I deplore his (Mr Modi’s) remarks,” Yashwant Sinha, a former cabinet minister who broke away from the BJP, said on Twitter, adding that they were insensitive.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi — who has also addressed election rallies in recent weeks — said on Sunday he was suspending all his public rallies in West Bengal.
Amit Shah, the government’s interior minister and Mr Modi’s close aide, addressed an election rally in the state on Sunday which was attended by thousands of people, few of whom followed social distancing norms, according to a video on his Twitter account.
Adding to the crisis, at least five coronavirus patients died in a hospital fire late on Saturday in Raipur, the capital of the central state of Chhattisgarh.