India fears COVID-19 catastrophe as omicron drives cases to new high

Haunted by the spectre of last year's crisis, India is bracing for a deluge of COVID-19 cases, with authorities of various megacities bringing in restrictions in a bid to keep infections in check, News.Az reports citing AFP. 

Case numbers have yet to match the enormous figures seen last spring, when thousands died each day and the Hindu holy city of Varanasi maintained round-the-clock funeral pyres for the mass cremation of virus victims.

But daily infections nearly tripled over two days this week to more than 90,000, a surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant that some experts worry could again see the country's hospitals overwhelmed.

An overnight curfew has been imposed in the Delhi area that includes the capital, where weekend movement restrictions will begin on Friday evening, with all non-essential workers asked to stay home.

Tech hub Bangalore has also declared a weekend curfew, while sprawling financial centre Mumbai introduced a night curfew.

"Even a small percentage of a large number of cases translates to a large number in absolute terms," Gautam Menon, a professor at India's Ashoka University who has worked on COVID-19 infection modeling, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"This could potentially stress out health care systems to levels comparable to or worse than the second wave."

Doctors and nurses who spoke to AFP have so far been optimistic, with fewer severe cases among those patients admitted to hospitals – and with the benefit of experience.

"Last year, we didn't know what exactly we were dealing with. I think now, mentally, it's a little better," one frontline worker at a Delhi hospital said.

Suresh Kumar, director of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital in the capital, where cases have quadrupled from a handful at the start of the week to 20, said the rise was "not a cause for panic."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has so far shied away from the drastic nationwide lockdown introduced during last year's catastrophic outbreak.

But local officials have watched the sharply rising case numbers with alarm and some of India's biggest urban centers have moved to impose restrictions again.

Earlier virus lockdowns were a hammer blow to the Indian economy and many are worried about the financial impact of new restrictions.


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