New Delhi — India reported 103,558 new coronavirus cases on Monday, crossing the 100,000 mark for daily infections for the first time since the pandemic began. With a total of 12.6 million people having tested positive for COVID-19 in the country, India has the world’s third-largest epidemic by caseload. Only the U.S. with 30 million and Brazil with just under 13 million have recorded more cases of the disease.
India also reported 478 more COVID-19 deaths on Monday, taking the total to 165,101, and hospitalizations are rising along with the number of positive cases.
The daily number of new cases has been rising since February amid a second wave of coronavirus infections. During the first wave in September, daily cases peaked at 97,570, but those numbers dropped sharply over the winter to about 10,000 cases per day.
Government officials and epidemiologists all point to people violating safety protocols as the primary driver of the surge in infections. On Sunday, the government said the rise “could be mainly attributed to the severe decline in compliance of COVID-appropriate behavior,” such as the use of facemasks and social distancing.
The government downplayed concerns that new strains of the virus were also playing a role in the escalating numbers in some states as “speculative.”
“The main reason why cases are increasing is because there are large crowds, poor compliance with wearing of masks and social distancing, and insufficient vaccine penetration,” Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington D.C., told CBS News last month.
Officials are now ratcheting up restrictions and trying to boost the mammoth mass-vaccination efforts in the nation of almost 1.4 billion people to counter the second wave.
The worst affected state, Maharashtra, which is reporting about half of the country’s new daily infections, has decided to impose a weekend lockdown, with only essential services allowed to operate, and a nighttime curfew until the end of April. State officials are also banning all gatherings and closing offices, shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, places of worship, swimming pools and bars from Monday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with senior health officials on Sunday to discuss other measures to counter the surge in infections. He has asked for expert national health teams to be sent to Maharashtra and to Punjab and Chhattisgarh, the other two states facing fast-growing epidemics.
The government plans to launch a “special campaign for COVID appropriate behavior” from Tuesday until April 14 – stressing the national mandate for the use of masks, personal hygiene and sanitation.
The vaccination drive is also picking up pace. Since the efforts began in mid-January, more than 79 million people have been given at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and the government intends to drive that figure up to 250 million by the end of July.
From the beginning of April everyone over the age of 45 was eligible for vaccination.