NEW DELHI—India reported more than 314,000 new coronavirus cases, the world’s biggest ever single-day jump of new infections, as the country struggled to keep a surge of infections from overwhelming its healthcare system.

Hospitals in New Delhi and other hard-hit cities have been turning away patients and running low on oxygen, beds and other medical supplies.

“We are in dire need of oxygen,” said A.C. Shukla, head of the intensive care unit at Delhi’s Mata Chanan Devi Hospital. “Suppliers have stopped answering our calls.”

As countries around the world race to vaccinate their populations, the escalating crisis in India threatens to prolong the pandemic. The World Health Organization reported Tuesday that global Covid-19 infections continue to rise, with last week breaking records with the most new coronavirus cases logged in a seven-day period since the start of the pandemic. India accounted for 27.3% of those infections, with nearly triple the cases of the U.S.

People waited for a Covid-19 vaccine in Mumbai on Wednesday as infections surged in India.


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India now has more than 15.9 million Covid-19 cases in total since the start of the pandemic, second only to the U.S., which has nearly 31.9 million cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There were 2,104 deaths in the past day, bringing the total tally to 184,657, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said Thursday.

Public-health experts said the latest surge in India has been fueled by a variety of factors, including a relaxation of safety precautions like social distancing and wearing masks that followed a drop in the number of cases in recent months. The country also allowed political rallies and religious festivals that health experts say could have served as superspreader events.


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Indian health officials say they have also detected the presence of several highly infectious variants, including one that may have started in India known as the double-mutant variant. The variants are also likely contributing to the rapid spread.

“The dominating factor to me is the social events, economic activities and carelessness of religious activities,” said Rakesh Mishra, director of the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, which operates one of the 10 state-run labs tasked with the genomic sequencing of the virus.

Every wedding, political rally, shopping center and restaurant was back to its pre-pandemic levels, he added. “They were very, very crowded,” he said.

As highly transmissible coronavirus variants sweep across the world, scientists are racing to understand why these new versions of the virus are spreading faster, and what this could mean for vaccine efforts. New research says the key may be the spike protein, which gives the coronavirus its unmistakable shape. Illustration: Nick Collingwood/WSJ

India had sought for months to avoid the stringent lockdowns that pummeled its economy last year, but New Delhi was placed into lockdown on Monday for six days. Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, said a lockdown was necessary to prevent the collapse of its hospitals.

The country is also aggressively expanding what is the world’s largest vaccination rollout. Starting May 1, everyone 18 years old and up will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, said Wednesday it will start selling the vaccine by AstraZeneca PLC for 400 rupees, equivalent to $5.30, per dose to states and 600 rupees to private hospitals when vaccinations open for all adults.

After Delhi’s lockdown, other states followed with tighter restrictions. Jharkhand imposed a weeklong lockdown starting Thursday, while India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has ordered a weekend lockdown.

Write to Shan Li at [email protected] and Vibhuti Agarwal at [email protected]

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