India has confirmed 4,205 more deaths, setting another daily record and taking its official COVID-19 toll past 250,000 as it battles a ferocious surge in infections.
Around 370,000 new cases were added in the last 24 hours, pushing India's total past 23 million, according to the health ministry. The figures are considered vast undercounts due to insufficient testing and records among other factors.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)'s latest weekly update, India currently accounted for 93 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the Southeast Asian region over the past week and nearly a third of global fatalities.
On Tuesday, authorities warned that nearly 90 per cent of districts in the country are seeing a high positivity rate, sparking fears the coronavirus is spreading to India’s rural areas faster than it did during a surge last year.
Infections have swelled in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies.
Even though daily cases have shown very early signs of flattening, experts have cautioned authorities to not let down their guard. With nearly 4 million cases still active, health care systems remain strained with limited hospital beds, oxygen and medicine.
Many states have imposed their own restrictions to curb infections, and the southern state of Telangana became the latest to announce a 10-day lockdown on Tuesday. Calls and pressure for a nationwide lockdown have been mounting.
The Indian variant was on Monday designated a "variant of concern" by the WHO, which called on authorities in the Southeast Asian country to step up the kind of testing needed to track it and understand it better.
"We need much more information about this virus variant," Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said. "We need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done and to be shared in India and elsewhere so that we know how much of this virus is circulating."
The UN agency said that the variant has now been detected in 44 countries worldwide.
Indian scientists say their work has been hindered by bureaucratic obstacles and the government’s reluctance to share vital data. India is sequencing around 1 per cent of its total cases, and not all of the results are uploaded to the global database of coronavirus genomes.
According to Alina Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard who is tracking global sequencing efforts, India uploads 0.49 sequences per 1,000 cases to GISAID, a global data sharing effort. The U.S., which had its own troubles with genetic monitoring, uploads about 10 in 1,000, while the U.K. does so for about 82 per 1,000 cases.