By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Authorities in India’s capital Delhi on Tuesday ordered people to stay home over coming weekends, with COVID-19 cases quadrupling in a week.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the most senior elected official in the capital’s administration, was one of the 37,379 new COVID-19 cases reported in India in the space of 24 hours.
Kejriwal, who announced his infection the day after addressing an election rally https://twitter.com/ArvindKejriwal/status/1477938357153927170 without a mask, is among scores of political leaders – including Prime Minister Narendra Modi – holding events across India in front of large crowds.
In the northeasterly Manipur state, Modi addressed several hundred people at an election rally, many sitting in close proximity with their masks pulled down.
In Uttar Pradesh, the ruling party and opposition groups also held big gatherings where many went without masks.
Mega-rallies last year helped the Delta variant to wreak havoc https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-scientists-say-india-government-ignored-warnings-amid-coronavirus-2021-05-01 in India, and with several state elections due in coming months, health experts and the public are growing worried.
India’s daily case load was the highest since September and experts suspect the highly transmissible Omicron variant has begun to overtake Delta, although hospital admissions have not jumped yet.
Delhi is reporting more than 4,000 cases a day, and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that, although most patients were showing mild or no symptoms and recovering fast, people would be required to stay indoors on Saturdays and Sundays.
On weekdays, most offices will have to ensure that half their employees work from home, he told a media briefing.
Delhi, India’s financial capital Mumbai and the technology hub Bengaluru have already imposed curbs on movement during the night, and some cities have also closed schools and colleges.
Kejriwal, who addressed a rally in the state of Uttarakhand, said on Twitter he had isolated at home with mild symptoms and urged anyone he had recently been in contact with to do likewise and take a test for COVID-19.
The federal government has encouraged local authorities to impose movement curbs if more than 5% of COVID-19 tests are positive. Delhi registered a 6% infection rate on Monday.
India has so far recorded 482,017 official deaths from COVID-19.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Chandini Monnappa and Chris Thomas in Bengaluru, and Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Simon Cameron-Moore and Kevin Liffey)