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India state elections go ahead as deaths hit record high

A security personal checks the body temperature of a woman wearing mask shows before her vote at polling stationIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionVoters in the Indian state of West Bengal go to the polls

People in the Indian state of West Bengal are voting in the final phase of elections despite soaring Covid cases.

Long queues were seen outside polling booths, raising concerns about the further spread of the virus as a deadly second wave sweeps the country.

Experts already fear that West Bengal could be the next epicentre of the virus, as campaigning has continued there with large crowds.

It recorded more than 17,000 cases in the last 24 hours – a new high.

The state has already seen seven phases of voting. The eastern state is one of the few where Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have a majority of seats.

There has been a lot of criticism that he continued to hold large rallies there even as the virus began overwhelming the country.

The BBC’s correspondent in the area, Amitabha Bhattasali, says some of the biggest rallies, including those attended by Mr Modi, saw throngs of people not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.

What is happening now in India?

Hospitals have been overwhelmed, oxygen is in critically low supply and crematoriums are operating non-stop.

The overall death toll officially surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, though experts believe the actual number could be much higher.

The country also reported 379,257 new infections on Thursday, the world’s highest single-day total.

It was the deadliest day so far, with 3,645 people succumbing to the coronavirus.

People cremate their relativesIMAGE COPYRIGHTREUTERS
image captionCrematoriums are working throughout the night and using empty spaces like parks and car parks to build makeshift funeral pyres

What about vaccines?

The government had said that all adults will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations from May 1 with online registration opening from 28 April.

But people on social media complained that they were not able to get slots because the website crashed soon after it opened.


So far, India has been vaccinating health workers, front line workers and adults over the age of 45.

But less than 10% of the population has received an initial jab and there are concerns about meeting demand.

Although India is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, it does not yet have the stocks for the roughly 600 million people who will be eligible from 1 May.

Number of cases and deaths
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The White House says the United States is redirecting its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, allowing it to to make more than 20 million doses of the vaccine.

Epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee says India must combine the immunisation drive with a widespread lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.

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Several parts of the country are under lockdown and curfew, including in the capital Delhi.

The government of Maharashtra, which is home to the financial capital Mumbai, is considering extending its lockdown until mid-May.

There is no lockdown or curfew in West Bengal state though.


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