The situation in India worsened further on Saturday with several states registering record highs in daily cases and deaths, and more reports emerging of hospitals turning away COVID-19 patients due to the unavailability of beds and oxygen.
In Uttar Pradesh, a COVID-19 patient was reportedly told to die during a conversation with a help centre.
Daily cases surpassed two lakhs for the third consecutive day on Saturday. The country added 2,34,692 new coronavirus cases and 1,341 fatalities due to the disease pushing its COVID-19 tally to 1,45,26,609 and the death toll to 1,75,649, the Union Health Ministry said.
As India's COVID-19 tally inched towards 1.50 crore and the death toll climbed above 1.75 lakh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union health Harsh Vardhan held meetings to review measures taken by states for prevention, containment and management of the recent surge.
Some of the public figures who tested positive on Saturday included Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy, Indian actor Sonu Sood and Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu, among others.
Opposition corners Centre over 'mishandling' of pandemic situation
Opposition parties also attacked the Centre on Saturday for its handling of the grave health crisis and on the issue of supply of medical oxygen and antiviral drug remdesivir to the worst-affected state of Maharashtra.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena traded charges of playing politics over the COVID-19 situation even as the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of the party, accused the Centre of "colossal mismanagement" in the war against pandemic.
The Congress also accused Modi of "shocking callousness" for addressing rallies in poll-bound West Bengal "instead of staying in Delhi" to handle the COVID pandemic situation.
Congress' senior spokesperson P Chidambaram said the prime minister should be at his job, sitting at his desk and coordinating with chief ministers in handling the pandemic.
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said he had tried to contact Modi on phone regarding the supply of medical oxygen for the state but was told the prime minister was not available since he was busy campaigning for the West Bengal elections.
On Saturday, Maharashtra reported 67,123 fresh coronavirus cases, its highest single-day increase so far, taking the tally to 37,70,707, the state health department said. Besides, 419 deaths due to the pandemic were reported in the state, which pushed the death toll to 59,970.
Multiple states report record spike in daily cases
Outside Maharashtra, several other states too reported their highest ever spike in daily cases, including Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, West Bengal, Kerala. Uttar Pradesh reported its highest daily deaths so far.
In National Capital Delhi, the daily coronavirus cases neared a staggering 24,000 and the positivity rate jumped to the highest-ever 24 percent on Saturday, with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal calling the situation "very serious and worrisome" with a shortage of oxygen, remdesivir and tocilizumab drugs.
A day before, 19,486 COVID-19 cases and 141 deaths were reported in the national capital.
Kejriwal said 6,000 more beds will be added in the next three to four days and warned hospitals of strict action if they are found giving wrong information or turning away coronavirus patients despite the availability of beds.
He also asked the Centre to reserve 50 percent of beds in Central Government hospitals in Delhi for COVID-19 patients.
Admitting that there was a shortage of oxygen and ICU beds, as well as medicines needed for serious COVID-19 patients, the chief minister said new cases were coming up fast and there was a limit to the health infrastructure.
Rajasthan, which began a weekend curfew on Friday, recorded its biggest ever spike in daily cases on Saturday with 9,046 fresh COVID-19 infections, pushing the tally to 4,04,355, while the death toll mounted to 3,109 with 37 more fatalities, according to an official report.
The weekend curfew remained effective as shops and offices except essential services remained closed. The curfew will continue in the state till 5 am on Monday.
Gujarat reported a record high in daily cases as well as deaths with 9,541 people testing positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours and 97 people succumbing to the virus. A total of 3,783 people were discharged post-recovery while the state's tally of COVID-19 cases reached 3,94,229, an official said.
Of the 97 deaths, 26 took place in Surat, followed by 25 in Ahmedabad, 10 in Rajkot, eight in Vadodara, six in Surendranagar, four each in Bhavnagar and Jamnagar, three in Morbi, two each in Banaskantha and Mehsana, and one each in Bharuch, Botad, Dang, Gandhinagar, Mahisagar, Panchmahal and Sabarkantha.
The state's toll stands at 5,267, and the recovery count is 3,33,564, or 84.61 per cent of the caseload, leaving it with 55,398 active cases, including 304 on ventilator support, the official added.
In Uttar Pradesh, 120 people died of COVID-19, its largest one-day toll from the pandemic pushing the fatality count to 9,703, while 27,357 fresh COVID-19 cases raised the infection tally to 8,21,054, according to an official statement.
Of the new fatalities linked to the virus, 36 were reported from state capital Lucknow, followed by 15 from Kanpur, eight from Varanasi, four each from Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar and Jaunpur among other districts.
Lucknow accounted for 5,913 of the fresh COVID-19 cases, Allahabad 1977, Kanpur 1826 and Varanasi 1,664, the UP government said in a statement issued here. So far, 6,41,292 COVID-19 patients have recovered from the disease in the state, it said.
The number of active COVID-19 cases stands at 1,70,059 in Uttar Pradesh, the statement added.
Karnataka reported 17,489 new cases of COVID-19 and 80 related fatalities, taking the total number of infections to 11,41,998 and the toll to 13,270. The state had previously reported its biggest single-day spike of 14,859 cases on Friday.
A surge in coronavirus cases in Haryana continued unabated with the state recording the biggest single-day jump of 7,717 infections on Saturday as 32 more people died from the disease, according to a Health Department bulletin.
So far, the infection has killed 3,386 people in the state, which has reported 3,49,794 cases since the outbreak of the pandemic last year. In the wake of a sharp increase in cases, the Haryana government on Saturday constituted a state-level monitoring committee, officials said.
Andhra Pradesh reported 7,224 fresh cases of coronavirus in the 24 hours ending 9 am on Saturday, the highest in a day after 26 September, 2020. The number of active cases reached 40,469, the highest after 15 October, 2020.
Tamil Nadu, one of the four states which went polling recently, clocked 9,344 new COVID-19 infections, pushing the caseload to 9,80,728, while recoveries mounted to 9,02,022 with 5,263 patients being discharged. Active cases stood at 65,635. The state also reported 39 fatalities on Saturday.
The situation was equally grim in Kerala where polling recently concluded, with the daily cases reported at 13,835 and 27 deaths on Saturday.
West Bengal, where phase 5 polling was held on Saturday, registered the highest single-day spike of 7,713 COVID-19 cases taking the tally to 6,51,508, the health department said in a bulletin.
The death toll also rose to 10,540 after 34 fresh fatalities were reported.
Kumbh Mela ends, several religious places shut
However, despite the severity of the second wave of coronavirus cases in India, election rallies and the Kumbh Mela have seen participants violating COVID-19 norms.
While the EC has curtailed campaigning and silence period to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases in election-bound states, the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand's Haridwar was in the spotlight as cases reportedly neared 2,000 on Saturday, raising fears that the religious congregation may emerge into another super spreader event.
Modi tweeted that the festival should now be conducted only as a "symbolic" exercise. Modi said that he has received a response from the akhadas.
Swami Avdheshanand of the Giri Acharya Mahamandleshwar Juna Akhada in Haridwar later announced the end of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar.
Besides the Kumbh Mela, several other religious places too announced that they will stay close following a rise in daily COVID-19 cases.
The famous Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah said that it will remain closed till 30 April in view of the unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases in the National Capital, its chairman Afsar Ali Nizami said on Saturday.
The popular Dwarkadhish Temple in Mathura too was closed to devotees for a week (till 25 April) amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
Modi, Vardhan reviews COVID situation
In the meeting to review the preparedness of public health response to the COVID-19 situation, Modi called for close coordination with states to defeat the virus as also for utilisation of the entire national capacity to ramp up vaccine production.
Reiterating that there is no substitute for testing, tracking and treatment, Modi said all necessary measures must be taken to ramp up the availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patient, and also asked local administrations to be proactive, sensitive to people's concerns.
He also reviewed the status of the supply of Remdesivir and other medicines and called for speeding up the installation of approved medical oxygen plants.
During the meeting with Vardhan, health ministers of 11 states and Union Territories (UTs) demanded an increased supply of medical-grade oxygen cylinders and Remdesivir in hospitals.
The states, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, which have been reporting an unprecedented surge in COVID cases, attended the meeting.
Many of them raised the issue of dovetailing the medical oxygen supply lines and capping of prices of essential drugs like Remdesivir which has been sold in the black market at exorbitant prices.
Double mutant strain in Maharashtra was a key point of concern.
The notification of the Home Ministry, granting permission to states to utilize up to 50 percent of their annual allocation of State Disaster Response Fund, and that of the Union Health Ministry, allowing utilisation of unspent pending balance under National Health Mission as of April 1, 2021, for COVID management purposes, were reiterated, it said.
With inputs from PTI