New Delhi ordered the closure of non-essential offices and restaurants and bars but offered free online yoga classes to those in home isolation, as Covid cases soared in the Indian capital and nationwide.
With case numbers rising six-fold over the past week, the Indian government is terrified of a repeat of last year when thousands died of the virus every day and the health system teetered on the brink of collapse.
While stopping short of a full lockdown, authorities have steadily increased restrictions nationwide and capacity at private offices and eateries in the capital was already restricted to 50 per cent.
But those in home isolation can take free online yoga classes, with Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal saying that it would help patients “boost their immunity and attain mental and spiritual peace”.
India’s capital registered 17 deaths each on Saturday and Sunday, the biggest single-day toll in more than 200 days, according to local media reports. Every fourth person tested is coming back positive.
Nationally, India recorded almost 170,000 new cases on January 10, almost half the daily number recorded during the surge of last April and May. Deaths remain a fraction of what they were but are rising.
Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s apex scientific body, on Monday tweaked its mandatory testing guidelines to ease the strain on the testing infrastructure.
Healthy, asymptomatic contacts of confirmed coronavirus patients no longer require mandatory testing.
Experts say that India is better prepared to deal with the latest coronavirus wave, driven by the Omicron variant, than last year.
The country has now administered more than 1.5 billion vaccine shots and recently opened the programme to teenagers. It has also begun giving boosters to vulnerable groups.
The surge last year, which killed more than 200,000 people – and possibly several times more – was blamed in part on huge political rallies and religious events.
The latest spike comes ahead of elections in five Indian states including Uttar Pradesh, home to 220 million people, beginning next month.
Political parties have been holding massive rallies with tens of thousands of people in attendance over the last few weeks.
West Bengal state is also holding a massive Hindu religious fair this week on an island in the Ganges, while Tamil Nadu has allowed bull-racing festivals to take place next week.
The India Open badminton championship meanwhile began in Delhi on Tuesday after a two-year gap with 219 players from 19 countries taking part – but without spectators.