NEW DELHI: India's COVID-19 death toll jumped by a record 3,689 deaths of Sunday (May 2), the highest single-day rise since the start of the pandemic, taking the country's death toll to more than 215,000.
Authorities reported 392,488 new infections in the previous 24 hours to push the total caseload to 19.56 million. So far, the virus has killed 215,542 people in India.
Indian hospitals, morgues and crematoriums have been overwhelmed as the country has reported more than 300,000 new cases a day for more than 10 days straight. Many families have been left on their own to scramble for medicines and oxygen.
Nearly 10 Indian states and union territories have imposed some form of restrictions, even as the federal government remains reluctant to impose a national lockdown.
The eastern state of Odisha became the latest to announce a two-week lockdown, joining Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal. Other states, including Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, have either imposed night curfews or weekend lockdowns.
The Indian Express newspaper reported on Sunday that the country's COVID-19 taskforce has advised the federal government to impose a national lockdown.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said all efforts should be made to avoid a lockdown.
The federal government fears another lockdown will have a devastating impact on the economy. The lockdown imposed last year after the first COVID-19 outbreak led to job losses as economic output fell a record 24 per cent in April to June 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier.
Modi's government has been criticised for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies in five states through March and April. Daily cases in these states have spiked since then.
Reuters reported on Saturday that the federal government has been accused of failing to respond to a warning in early March from its own scientific advisers that a new and more contagious variant was taking hold in the country.
The head of the Serum Institute of India - the world's largest vaccine maker - told The Times newspaper on Saturday during a business trip to Britain that he was being hounded by political and business leaders for more supplies.
"'Threats' is an understatement," Adar Poonawalla told the paper. "The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It's overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine."
Experts have called on the government to allow more flexibility in India's vaccine rollout, particularly in poorer rural areas where there is lower Internet penetration.
"We should procure sufficient vaccines, then plan bottom-up through ... the primary health centre level," Bangalore-based public health expert Hemant Shewade told AFP.
"Take vaccines to the people the way we have implemented our polio and measles campaigns."
Alarm bells are also ringing in other countries in densely populated South Asia.
"Infections have surged beyond the capacity of the health system," Nepal's health ministry said on Friday as it warned that hospital beds were running out amid a spike in infections.
On Sunday, the Himalayan nation recorded 7,137 new cases, a record high.
Nearly 40 per cent of people tested returned a positive result, data from the ministry showed.
The government has enforced lockdowns or partial lockdowns in almost half of Nepal's 77 districts.
In Sri Lanka, daily infections hit a record 1,699 on Saturday, with authorities imposing further curbs on movement and activities in parts of the island nation.
"We could face an India-type crisis very soon unless we arrest the current trend of infections," chief epidemiologist Sudath Samaraweera said.