Mumbai / Islamabad, March 19 (Reuters) – India and Pakistan reported a big jump in new coronavirus infections on Thursday, driven by a resurgence in cases in their richest states.
In efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, Punjab state in India extended a night curfew across nine districts and the New Delhi city government announced an increase of vaccinations to 125,000 doses per day from around 40,000 at present, officials said.
Local authorities in the Indian state of Odisha sought additional vaccine doses and in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, authorities ordered schools and colleges to be shut across eight administrative divisions until April 10.
Officials in India have blamed the surge in infections mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks. Pakistan says the coronavirus variant first found in Britain may also be a factor.
Maharashtra state, home to India’s commercial capital Mumbai, reported 23,179 of the country’s 35,871 new cases in the past 24 hours, and the rapid spread in industrial areas raised risks of companies’ production being disrupted.
India’s total cases stood at 11.47 million, the highest after the United States and Brazil. Deaths rose by 172 to 159,216, according to health ministry data on Thursday.
In Pakistan, 3,495 people tested positive in the past 24 hours, the most daily infections since early December. Total cases passed 615,000. Deaths rose by 61 to 13,717.
Most of the new cases came from Pakistan’s largest and richest province, Punjab.
Pakistani minister Asad Umar said hospital beds were filling fast, and warned of stricter curbs if rules were not followed.
“The new strain (first found in Britain) spreads faster and is more deadly,” he said on Twitter.
India’s first wave peaked in September at nearly 100,000 cases a day, with daily infections dropping to just over 9,000 early last month.
India and Pakistan have a combined population of 1.57 billion, a fifth of humanity.
The surge in infections in India has been led by Maharashtra as businesses reopened and millions used crowded suburban trains again.
The state of 112 million people ordered a new lockdown in some districts and put curbs on cinemas, hotels and restaurants until the end of the month after infections hit a multi-month high this week.
New cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks in Maharashtra’s industrial towns such as Pune, Aurangabad, Nashik and Nagpur, home to car, pharmaceutical and textile factories.
“We have asked industries there to operate with minimum manpower as much possible,” said a senior Maharashtra government official.
Hospital beds and special COVID-19 facilities were filling up fast, especially in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune, said another state official.
Cases have also risen this month in several other states including Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
In Odisha, authorities sought an additional 2.5 million doses of Covishield, the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, to ensure a smooth inoculation campaign in the next two weeks.
Since mid-January, India has administered more than 37 million vaccine doses, mostly reliant on Covishield, and Modi has asked state leaders to increase testing and vaccinations.