India reports worst COVID rise in months

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India has reported its most COVID-19 cases and deaths in months on the first anniversary of the start of a chaotic nationwide lockdown that has left many people jobless and shrank the economy.

Authorities reintroduced some curbs to slow the spread of the virus, especially in the western state of Maharashtra, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 46,951 new infections and the majority of the 212 deaths reported on Monday.

Some hospitals in the country's worst-affected state have begun to run short of beds.

With the biggest rise in cases since early November, India's total has surpassed 11.65 million, the highest in the world after the United States and Brazil. The increase in deaths was the largest since early January, and took the total to 159,967.

In some parts of India, most people still go out without masks and flout advice on social distancing, including politicians campaigning in four states where elections will begin later this month.

The health ministry has also warned a huge gathering of devotees for a Hindu festival could lead to a spike in cases as people from all over the country flock to the banks of the Ganges river in the holy northern town of Haridwar.

Local authorities have said they expect 150 million visitors at the weeks-long Mahakumbh that began this month and peaks in April. The festival is held only once every 12 years, and many Hindus believe bathing in the river during this period absolves people of sins.

The surge in cases has also brought into focus India's low rate of immunisation relative to population, despite being the world's biggest maker of vaccines.

India has administered more than 44 million doses since starting its vaccination campaign in mid-January, but wants to cover 300 million - a fifth of its 1.35 billion population - by August.