India has reported its highest number of coronavirus cases in four months amid a worrying surge that has prompted multiple states to implement some form of restrictions on public gathering again.
India's Health Ministry on Sunday reported 43,846 new cases over the past 24 hours, the worst single-day increase since mid-November, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
The central Maharashtra state, home to India's financial capital Mumbai, accounts for more than half of the new infections. The state has imposed a lockdown in some districts until the end of the month and authorities in Mumbai city said they will roll out mandatory random COVID-19 tests in crowded places.
According to the ministry, seven other states have been reporting a surge in new cases from the last week, leading some to reimpose containment measures, including focused lockdowns and restaurant and school closures. India has so far reported more than 11.5 million cases of coronavirus infection, the world’s third-highest total after the United States and Brazil.
The coronavirus cases had been falling steadily since a peak in late September, but experts say increased public gatherings and laxity toward public health guidance is leading to the latest surge. The government has announced plans to inoculate 300 million people by August. But only 44 million have been vaccinated so far, 7.4 million of them partially.
The country's authorities warned on Sunday that a huge gathering of devotees for a Hindu festival could send coronavirus cases surging. The festival is held only once every 12 years. Millions of Hindus are expected to crowd the site next month, as bathing in the river during this period is believed to absolve people of sins and bring salvation from the cycle of life and death.
In a letter to the state government of Uttarakhand, where Haridwar is located, the ministry told local authorities their daily testing of 55,000 people in Haridwar for the coronavirus was not enough given the large numbers of pilgrims expected, and that cases were already rising.
"This positivity rate has the potential to rapidly turn into an upsurge in cases, given the expected large footfall during Kumbh," the ministry said in a statement, citing the letter, according to Reuters.
"Currently more than 12 states in India have shown a surge in COVID-19 cases during the past few weeks, and pilgrims expected to visit Haridwar during the Kumbh Mela could also be from these states."
Uttarakhand's government says it has made mask-wearing mandatory for devotees and that it plans to distribute millions of masks for free and also keep sanitizing public areas, apart from following rules laid down by the federal government.