India has reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
The Health Ministry reported 103,558 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.
The jump came as officials in the hard-hit state which is home to Mumbai are returning to the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.
The biggest contributor to the surge has been the western state of Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai. The state has contributed more than 55% of total cases in the country in the last two weeks.
The state will start shutting cinemas, restaurants, shopping centres and places of worship from Monday evening. Authorities will also impose a complete lockdown at weekends.
Infections had receded in India for several months but started to rise again in late February. Since then, new cases have increased more than tenfold.
India has confirmed a new and potentially troublesome variant of the virus, but officials have cautioned against linking that or other variants to the surge.
Experts say the surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces, including public gatherings. Some say the government has been sending mixed messages.
As health officials continue to warn of gatherings in public places, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party leaders continue to hold mammoth rallies in several states where local elections are under way.
Mr Modi’s government has also allowed a huge month-long Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of the Ganges River in the northern Uttarakhand state. The festival draws tens of thousands of devotees daily.
India has intensified its vaccination drive in recent weeks, now administering more than three million jabs a day. But the shots have been slow to reach India’s nearly 1.4 billion people.
More than 76 million Indians have received at least one shot, but only 9.5 million of them have received both. Health officials want to cover 300 million people by August, but experts say the vaccinations need to move faster to stop the spread.
The country has launched the third phase of its coronavirus vaccination drive with those older than 45 eligible for the jab. In the first two phases, frontline workers and people above the age of 60 were eligible.
India has reported 12.6 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States and Brazil.