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Indian state announces strict new curbs as Covid cases climb

Coronavirus pandemic

Indian state announces strict new curbs as Covid cases climb

Economic powerhouse Maharashtra recorded more than 57,000 new infections on Sunday

A packed Juhu beach in Mumbai on Sunday: state authorities stopped short of a full lockdown but have not ruled out further measures © Sujit Jaiswal/AFP/Getty

The Indian state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital Mumbai and more than 100m people, introduced sweeping restrictions on the public and businesses as the country’s daily Covid-19 caseload hit a record high.

India reported 103,000 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, registering the highest number of daily infections globally. It surpassed its previous peak of nearly 100,000 daily cases in September.

The country recorded more than 500 deaths on Saturday, up from 100 or less at the start of March.

Maharashtra has led the resurgence, with more than 57,000 new infections announced on Sunday, and has accounted for many of the deaths. The western state is India’s economic powerhouse, accounting for 14 per cent of gross domestic product, according to research firm Capital Economics.

The restrictions in Maharashtra include a night-time curfew and weekend lockdown, while all but essential shops are to close. Most private offices will shut, restaurants only be available for takeaway and public gatherings have been curtailed.

The state introduced the measures amid fears health systems could be overwhelmed by the surge.

India’s second wave risks setting back the budding recovery of what had been one of the world’s fastest-growing large economies before the pandemic.

The Reserve Bank of India expects India’s economy to grow by 10.5 per cent in the 12 months to March 2022 after a painful contraction the previous year. 

But the surge is a “growing threat”, according to Capital Economics. Writing before the latest announcement, the firm said wide-ranging restrictions “would severely dent the economic recovery”.

Nomura estimates that a worsening second wave will weigh on growth, though it expects the impact of localised measures to be limited compared to last year’s strict nationwide lockdown.

The second wave in India, a major vaccine exporter, also has potentially global ramifications for Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

Officials in India last month said they were “calibrating” how much supply would be available for export, and were buying up much of domestic production as they look to speed up inoculations at home.

India, which had been exporting more doses than it was giving domestically, this month opened vaccinations to anyone aged over 45.

A sharp nationwide drop in Covid-19 infections between September and February, when India recorded as few as 10,000 new cases a day, allowed authorities around the country to lift the bulk of remaining lockdown restrictions.

But the speed with which the new wave has risen has alarmed health experts concerned about the presence of new strains of the virus in the country. Authorities have confirmed detection of the variants “of concern” first identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

Health officials also last month announced the discovery of a new “double mutant” variant in Maharashtra, though they cautioned that it was premature to attribute the surge to the presence of new strains.

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