Covid-19 cases in India have surged over the past few weeks, with the country now the new global epicentre for the pandemic.
The country has reported at least 300,000 new coronavirus cases every day in the past week, including over 360,000 new cases in the past 24 hours on Wednesday (28 April). This is the biggest daily total in the world since the pandemic began, with the previous record being 297,430 cases, which was recorded in the US in January.
India has also reached 200,000 coronavirus deaths, although it is thought the fatalities could be far greater, with many not being officially recorded.
The outbreak has left many hospitals overrun and struggling to cope with demand, and oxygen supplies remain critically low, along with tests and hospital beds.
Britain is sending more than 600 pieces of medical equipment to the country as cases continue to climb, with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirming the assistance package would include ventilators and oxygen concentrators from surplus stocks.
Foreign aid has also started to arrive from Singapore, while Russia, New Zealand and France have pledged to send emergency medical equipment, along with Pakistan and China who have put aside their differences and pledged to help.
Why is the situation so bad?
At the start of the year, India appeared to have the virus under control, with daily cases dropping to around 10,000 per day in early February, which is considered low for a country of 1.3 billion people.
It also marked a sharp decline from more than 100,000 per day last year.
But cases have since spiked significantly in recent weeks, with India’s government apparently unprepared for an outbreak on this scale.
India’s total cases throughout the pandemic now stands at more than 17.9 million, with the death toll now at 200,000.
The discovery of a new ‘double mutant’ Covid-19 variant in the country has been blamed as one of the main factors for the rising cases, with the strain causing alarm because it has two spike proteins instead of one.
The variant is believed to be more transmissible than other strains and there are concerns it could render vaccines less effective, although this has not yet been confirmed.
The surge in cases has also been linked to lockdown restrictions being eased two quickly.
Prime Minister Modi has come under fire for holding rallies without proper social distancing, while Hindu festivals have also been allowed to go ahead, including the Kumbh Mela gathering in Haridwar which has attracted around 25 million people since January.
More than four million people attended this last week alone, with many ignoring Covid-19 guidelines.
Does India have a vaccine progamme?
The country has launched a huge vaccination rollout, but this has not been enough to control the outbreak and the government has said it is being affected by lack of supplies.
More than 127 million doses have been delivered so far, although this amounts to fewer than 10 per cent of the population, while just 1.6 per cent are fully vaccinated.
As the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, India is expected to divert some of its production to domestic use, causing concerns this could lead to shortages in other parts of the world.
What is being done to control the spread?
India’s capital, New Delhi, was placed in lockdown from Monday 19 April, while Maharashtra state, which is at the centre of the outbreak, tightened its restrictions on shops and home deliveries on 20 April.
Last Monday (19 April), the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advised against all travel to India, while in the UK, the country was added to the government’s Covid-19 travel ‘red list’.
As of 23 April, Britons returning from India will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days, while anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident, or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
India is also making efforts to restart dedicated coronavirus emergency hospitals operated by the federal authorities to help manage the cases, although the country has a severe shortage of medical supplies, especially oxygen.
Is the country under lockdown?
Despite the huge number of cases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that states should only enforce a strict lockdown as a “last resort”, stating that the focus should be on “micro-containment zones” instead.
In a nationwide address on 20 April night, he said: “'In a situation like today, we have to save the country from a lockdown. If you all work together, create awareness then there is no need for containment, never mind a lockdown.
“I appeal to states that they should use the lockdown as the last resort - our focus should be micro-containment zones.
“We will take care of economic health as well as the health of countrymen.
"Our effort is to save lives. But the impact on economic activities and livelihoods should also be as less as possible."
PM Modi said there was "no question of a lockdown" if citizens, especially younger people, came forward and helped check the spread of Covid.
He added: “You must step out only if necessary. I assure you, the nation won't spare any effort to resolve today's crisis."