Marking a grave new milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, India recorded 312,731 new infections in a 24-hour period, the Indian health ministry said on Thursday. It is the highest daily case count in a single country since the virus surfaced in China more than a year ago.
India’s total eclipsed the previous single-day high of 300,669 cases, set in the United States on Jan. 8, according to a New York Times database.
Over the past two months, the outbreak in India has exploded, with reports of superspreader gatherings, oxygen shortages and ambulances lined up outside hospitals because there are no ventilators for new patients.
As cases worldwide reach new weekly records, 40 percent of the infections are coming from India, a sobering reminder that the pandemic is far from over, even as infections decline and vaccinations speed ahead in the United States and other wealthy parts of the world. India has surpassed 15.6 million total infections, second most after the United States.
The death toll has also begun to climb precipitously.
On Thursday, the Indian government recorded 2,104 deaths, and an average of more than 1,300 people have died of the virus every day for the past week. That is less than at the worst points of the pandemic in the United States or Brazil, but it is a steep increase from just two months ago, when fewer than 100 people in India were dying daily.
There are signs that the country’s health system, patchy even before the pandemic, is collapsing under the strain. On Tuesday, at least 22 people died in an accident in the central city of Nashik when a leak in a hospital’s main oxygen tank cut the flow of oxygen to Covid-19 patients.
The picture is staggeringly different from early February, when India was recording an average of just 11,000 cases a day, and domestic drug companies were pumping out millions of vaccine doses. More than 132 million Indians have received at least one dose, but supplies are running low and experts warn that the country is unlikely to meet its goal of inoculating 300 million people by the summer.
Critics say Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who imposed a harsh nationwide lockdown in March 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic, failed to prepare for a second wave or to warn Indians to remain vigilant against the virus, especially as more infectious variants began to spread.
Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has also allowed a massive Hindu festival to take place, drawing millions of pilgrims to the banks of the Ganges River, and his party has held jam-packed political rallies in several states.
“India’s rapid slide into this unprecedented crisis is a direct result of complacency and lack of preparation by the government,” Ramanan Laxminarayan, the director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in Washington, wrote in The New York Times on Tuesday.
The hardest hit region is Maharashtra, a populous western state that includes the financial hub of Mumbai. On Wednesday, the state’s top leader ordered government offices to operate at 15 percent capacity and imposed new restrictions on weddings and private transportation to slow the spread of the virus.