India ratchets up Covid curbs as third wave gains momentum

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A healthcare worker checks the vitals of a patient outside a temporary Covid-19 treatment facility set up at the Common Wealth Games Village Sports Complex in New Delhi on Jan. 5, 2022. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by T. Narayan.

Regional governments across India are implementing an increasingly strict set of movement restrictions and partial lockdowns as the country finds itself in the grip of the third Covid-19 wave amid rising omicron infections.

Weekend and night curfews were imposed in Delhi after its chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, showed mild Covid-19 symptoms and tested positive for the disease. Kejriwal was attending massive election rallies ahead of a number of state polls. Private companies in India’s capital have been ordered to keep premises at half strength and government employees in non-essential services were asked to work from home as the official national infection level rose above 58,000 cases a day — the highest one-day addition since June.

Similar curbs were also announced by the states of West Bengal and Karnataka. Mumbai, India’s financial hub and one of the country’s main transit points for international arrivals, is considering a more stringent lockdown if daily infections in the metropolis cross the 20,000 mark, the city’s mayor said, according to the Press Trust of India.

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The harsher measures come in the wake of the highly mutated and highly infectious omicron variant that was spotted in India last month after fueling surges in dozens of other nations. It has forced public health authorities to renew their pandemic control efforts amid record case loads. India is attempting to avoid a repeat of the scenes last year during its brutal second wave that overwhelmed its hospitals and left its citizens pleading for oxygen and other medical resources on social-media platforms.

Shares of Linde India Ltd., the one of the biggest suppliers of medical oxygen in the country, gained as much as 7.2% on Wednesday amid growing unease around the rising Covid cases.

India, which has fully vaccinated 45% of its entire population with two doses or about 60% of its adults, has begun inoculating 15 to 18 year olds this month and will offer booster shots to the over 60s, frontline workers and those at high risk.

Despite the rising restrictions, political figures, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been widely criticized for hitting the campaign trail in the run up to a handful of regional polls.

Anecdotally, some Indians, like many around the world, are reporting mild symptoms, though many scientists are concerned that the likely huge level of infections may once again strain India’s health network. Recent antibody surveys suggested that the majority of the country’s population has already been exposed to the virus but the World Health Organization has cautioned against underestimating the threat from omicron.

India needs expand its vaccination coverage on a “war footing,” Nithya Balasubramanian, a senior health care analyst at Bernstein India, told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. “However, I am hopeful that we will not see the kind of stress on the health care infrastructure that we saw in the delta wave.”

Economists are also hoping that the fresh restrictions won’t damage a nascent recovery.

“The impact of an Omicron wave may be limited to one quarter in terms of the duration of the surge in fresh cases, as well as the economic impact given the better preparedness of governments, the health care system and households,” said Aditi Nayar, chief economist at ratings company ICRA Ltd. “However, there continues to be a lot of uncertainty around thi

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