India's new Covid-19 cases top 100,000 as Maharashtra state halts non-essential services

People at a crowded beach amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Mumbai, India, on April 4, 2021.
India reported 103,558 new infections over the previous 24 hours, according to data from the federal Health Ministry on Monday.PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - India added more than 100,000 infections over the last 24 hours, a record increase that has pushed its richest state to order offices to work from home and malls and restaurants to shut for the month of April.

Maharashtra, which houses financial hub Mumbai and contributes about 15 per cent of national output, will halt all non-essential services from 8pm on Monday (April 5).

Private offices were asked to work from home, with some allowances for banks and stock exchanges.

The country reported 103,558 new infections, according to data from the federal Health Ministry on Monday.

"There is an alarming rate of growth of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country," Prime Minister Narendra Modi's federal government said in a statement at the weekend.

As infection numbers continue to spiral, five Indian states are in the middle of local elections, with thousands of people thronging to campaign rallies.

Meanwhile, the northern state of Uttarakhand is marking the month-long Hindu pilgrimage of the Kumbh Mela, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to the banks of the Ganges River.

Maharashtra is the epicentre of this fresh outbreak, which follows an unexplained lull in recent months that allowed businesses to reopen and fostered optimism among policymakers about a recovery in growth.

The renewed restrictions will weigh on the central bank, whose officials will meet from Monday to Wednesday to decide monetary policy.

India's S&P BSE Sensex Index dropped as much as 1 per cent in early trading on Monday as investors weighed the impact of a virus resurgence on companies' earnings.

Twelve of 19 sector sub-indexes compiled by BSE dropped, led by gauges of banks and financial companies. Hotels and cinema operators plunged.

Asia's third-largest economy slumped into a historic recession last year after Mr Modi announced a sudden and strict nationwide lockdown.

Most experts attribute the resurgence in infections to residents flouting health and safety rules after a reopening was permitted, while some officials inconclusively blame a new infectious strain of the coronavirus.

The country has made little progress in sequencing its test samples, with news reports stating that less than 1 per cent of samples have been studied so far.

Maharashtra has accounted for 57 per cent of new infections over the past 14 days and 47 per cent of deaths during the period.

More than half of the state's hospital beds are occupied and the authorities warned that healthcare systems could be overwhelmed in 15 to 20 days unless the rate of growth is significantly curbed.

About 75 million citizens have been vaccinated so far in the country of 1.3 billion people.