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India’s richest state tightens curbs as hospitals struggle

India’s richest state Maharashtra tightened coronavirus restrictions late Tuesday, imposing tougher lockdown measures including in regional capital Mumbai as infections surge and oxygen supplies run short.

India’s richest state Maharashtra tightened coronavirus restrictions late Tuesday, imposing tougher lockdown measures including in regional capital Mumbai as infections surge and oxygen supplies run short.

Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and spectators at cricket matches, India is experiencing a ferocious new wave with around a million new cases in the past week.

The new restrictions will force all “non-essential” shops, malls and e-commerce deliveries to pause operations from Wednesday until the 1st of May.

Shooting for movies, television shows and advertisements in Bollywood will also grind to a halt, in what will be a blow to India’s flagship film industry.

Bars and restaurants were shut earlier this month, and public gatherings of more than five people are banned.

The new measures follow Maharashtra’s move to impose a state-wide weekend lockdown that confined the state’s 125 million people to their homes until the end of April unless shopping for food or medicine, or travelling.

Acknowledging the toll that tighter restrictions will take on the economy and jobs, the state’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray urged residents to follow the new rules, adding: “Lives are more important than livelihoods”.

“You have to decide if you are going to help corona or help those fighting corona,” he said in a televised speech.

India’s worst-hit state is also struggling with oxygen shortages, Thackeray said, asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to deploy the air force and send fresh supplies.

After a lockdown a year ago caused widespread misery and one of the sharpest downturns of any major economy, the central government is desperate to avoid a hugely unpopular second shutdown.

But many states are tightening the screw, in particular Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, the epicentre of the infection spike, which has recorded nearly 87,000 infections since the start of the pandemic.

This week, India overtook Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases, with experts blaming coronavirus complacency and frustration for the case surge.

India’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people has also appeared to hit obstacles, with just 108.5 million shots administered so far and stocks running low, according to local authorities. (AFP)

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