India daily COVID-19 case count touches 8-month peak, 314 deaths
India reported 271,202 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours, its highest daily count in eight months, taking its total tally to 37.12 million, the federal health ministry said on Sunday.
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 314 to 486,066, the ministry said, reports Reuters.
India began administering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers and vulnerable elderly people, with the fast-spreading omicron variant fuelling an almost eight-fold rise in daily infections since the start of the year.
In recent days, hundreds of healthcare and frontline workers, including police, have contracted the virus, and there were media reports that hundreds of parliamentary staff have also tested positive ahead of a budget session on Feb 1.
Facing this rising third wave of infections, the government sent booster reminders to more than 10 million people who took their second dose of the Covaxin or Covishield shot nine months ago.
Unlike many countries, India is not mixing and matching vaccines.
Only healthcare personnel, frontline workers and people above 60 years suffering from other health conditions are eligible for what the government calls a "precaution dose".
"The government is committed to provide additional security cover to healthcare and frontline workers on priority," Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya earlier wrote on Twitter.
Despite the rise in infections, five states including the most populous Uttar Pradesh will hold elections starting Feb. 10, though authorities have barred political party rallies until at least the middle of this month.
Hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshippers gathered on the banks of India's Ganges river on Jan 14, for a holy bathe despite a 30-fold rise in coronavirus cases in the past month.
Hindus believe a bathe in the holy river on the Makarsankranti festival washes away sins.
A large number of devotees were taking a dip in the sacred river where it flows through the eastern state of West Bengal, which is reporting the most number of cases in the country after Maharashtra state in the west.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of devotees, few wearing masks, thronged the river's banks in the holy city of Prayagraj.
Doctors had appealed unsuccessfully to the West Bengal state high court to reverse a decision to allow the festival this year, worrying it will become a virus "super spreader" event.
Last year, a big religious gathering in northern India contributed to a record rise in coronavirus cases.