India began a Covid-19 booster shot campaign for frontline workers and vulnerable people aged 60 and above on January 10 as authorities grapple with a rapidly escalating outbreak driven by the Omicron variant.
Daily case numbers are approaching the enormous figures seen last year, when thousands died each day and workers maintained round-the-clock funeral pyres for the mass cremation of virus victims.
Nearly 180,000 new infections were recorded overnight, up nearly six times from a week earlier, with several urban centres imposing night-time curfews and restrictions on public gatherings.
People aged 60 and above with pre-existing medical conditions, health professionals, and other essential workers are all eligible for a booster nine months after their second jab.
India appears better placed to weather the Omicron strain than it was ahead of the calamitous Delta wave it suffered last year.
During that period, more than 200,000 people died within a few weeks, according to official figures. Experts believe the real number is several times higher.
That outbreak saw hospitals overwhelmed, oxygen run out and patients scramble to source medicine from depleted pharmacies.
In the time since, Indian health workers have injected more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses, with teens aged 15-18 eligible since last week.
As in other countries, deaths are a fraction of those during the Delta wave – with 146 fatalities recorded on January 9, compared with more than 4,000 per day during last year’s spike.
But experts still fear the number of new infections to come could test the country’s hospitals in a bleak rerun of last year’s catastrophe.