The Indian capital of New Delhi yesterday imposed a night-time curfew until April 30 with much of the country struggling to contain a second surge in coronavirus infections that has eclipsed the first wave.
The next four weeks in India's fight against Covid-19 will be "very, very critical," said senior government health official Vinod Kumar Paul, warning that the respiratory disease was now spreading much faster than in 2020.
"The pandemic has worsened in the country...There is a serious rise in cases. Warnings were given that the situation should not be taken for granted," Paul told reporters.
India, the world's second most populous country with 1.35 billion people, has administered 80.9 million vaccine doses, the most after the United States and China, but it lags far behind in immunisations per capita.
Healthcare and similar frontline workers as well as people over 60 have been the main recipients of vaccinations so far. Inoculations of people above 45 began only on April 1.
"All Central Government employees of the age of 45 years and above are advised to get themselves vaccinated, so as to effectively contain the spread of Covid-19," the Indian government said in a media statement.
New Delhi authorities launched the 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew a day after the country surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 new daily infections for the first time. The curfew echoes tough restrictions in Maharashtra, the country's hardest-hit state where the financial capital Mumbai is also located.
Rising Covid-19 fatalities in the states of Punjab and Chhattisgarh are also cause for "extreme concern", India's top-ranked health official Rajesh Bhushan told reporters yesterday.
Leaders in several states including Delhi and Maharashtra have appealed to the federal government for a faster and wider roll-out of vaccines, with some like Odisha repeatedly citing shortages even for prioritised groups such as the elderly.
"If a larger number of young and working population is vaccinated, the intensity of the cases would be much lower than the treatment that they need today," Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of Maharashtra, wrote in a letter to Modi late on Monday.
The federal government has said it will widen the vaccination campaign in the "near future" to include more people, and that vaccine supplies are being stepped up.
Coronavirus cases jumped by nearly 97,000 yesterday, data from the health ministry showed. There were 446 new deaths, taking the total to 165,547. With 12.7 million cases, India is the worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.
Daily infections have risen many fold since hitting a multi-month low in early February, when authorities eased most restrictions and people largely stopped wearing masks and observing social distancing.
India has recorded the most number of infections in the past week anywhere in the world. More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in the second surge, some epidemiologists say.
There is also widespread criticism over tens of thousands of mostly maskless people crowding political rallies across four states that are now holding elections. Modi and some close cabinet colleagues have addressed the rallies, reports Reuters.
There are also jitters about tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathering on the banks of the river Ganges, in the northern state of Uttarakhand ruled by Modi's party, for the weeks-long 'Kumbh Mela', or pitcher festival.
Organisers had initially expected more than 150 million people to arrive, though the numbers are likely to be much lower now due the rise in Covid-19 cases.