Mask mandates return to India's capital as Covid-19 cases rise

People queue up to get the Covaxin vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre inside a school in Mumbai on Sep 7, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India's capital has reinstated the mask mandate in public spaces and stepped up testing for new variants, amid concerns about rising daily Covid-19 infections in the country.

The Delhi state government has begun genome sequencing for all Covid-positive samples collected April 9 onward, its spokesman said.

The measures follow the detection of the highly transmissible XE variant in Mumbai earlier this month.

India saw daily infections exceed 2,000 cases three days this week, more than double from a week ago.

The South Asian nation has removed most Covid-related curbs and allowed offices, schools and movie theatres to reopen.

Several other countries are also dismantling pandemic restrictions - a US judge scrapped mask requirements on planes and public transport this week and Singapore made masking outdoors optional.

Delhi reported one death and 1,009 infections on Wednesday (April 20), crossing the 1,000-mark for the first time since February. The capital had reported 632 cases on Tuesday.

India reported 56 deaths and 2,380 new infections on Wednesday, taking its total confirmed infections so far to more than 43 million.

The risk of rising cases, along with India's ramping up of booster shots "demands monitoring," Bank of America said in a note on April 19. "Major metro cities have started to see sharp increases in cases again."

While there are no immediate signs of India's heathcare system getting overwhelmed like it did last summer when daily cases topped 400,000 as the Delta variant ripped through the crowded nation, the World Health Organisation has been warning about the emergence of new variants and the need to maintain vigilance.

An India-wide consortium of genome-testing laboratories said in a letter recently that it had sought further investigation into the XE variant detected in Mumbai.

The country's financial hub is located in the state of Maharashtra, which has also eased all the curbs.

The federal government, in an April 19 letter, asked states including Maharashtra and north-eastern Mizoram to tighten Covid protocols again.

India is one of the world's worst-hit nations with more than 43 million Covid cases and 522,000 deaths reported so far, according to official estimates, although several studies point to a massive undercounting of its fatalities.

The Narendra Modi government is currently in the middle of a dispute over its death data after the New York Times and other media reported an unpublished WHO study that put India's Covid deaths at "more than 4 million" and said the government was trying to stall the publication of the data.

The Indian government contested these findings in an April 16 statement, saying the methodology employed was "questionable."

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