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India's COVID-19 deaths hit record high amid calls for nationwide lockdown

India reports record COVID deaths
India's COVID-19 deaths hit record high 02:44

New Delhi — There are new calls for India's prime minister to implement a nationwide shutdown, as COVID-19 spreads at a breakneck speed. The country on Saturday reported more than 4,000 deaths due to the virus, marking a new single-day high.

The coronavirus is claiming lives faster than India can bury or cremate them — after it felt like the country had dodged a freight train, CBS News' Chris Livesay reports. Last year, when the U.S. and much of the world were reeling in the pandemic, India was relatively unscathed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the credit, saying "we saved mankind from a big disaster by saving our citizens from the pandemic"

Defying warnings from the government's own scientists, the country opened up. Social distancing vanished at political rallies and religious gatherings, including one on the Ganges, thought to be the biggest super-spreader event in history.

Since February, infections have spiked: 200,000, 300,000, and now more than 400,000 cases in a single day — for the third day in a row, forcing makeshift crematories.

Family members and relatives wearing protective gear carry the body of their loved one who died due to the Covid-19 coronavirus at a crematorium on the outskirts of Siliguri on May 8, 2021, as India recorded more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths in a day for the first time. DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images

Princeton epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan said the second COVID wave is not surprising.

"It came back with an absolute ferocity that's overtaking the healthcare system everywhere," he said. "Every death is just a tragedy because these were all avoidable deaths for the most part."

Now the country is scrambling to provide vaccines and treatment, which is in short supply. Oxygen shortages have forced Indians to line up for hours, even days.

Several states have announced stricter lockdowns, as the government faces mounting pressure to restrict movements nationwide.

Prime Minister Modi has been accused of doing too little and has left the responsibility for combating the virus to state governments. His government has said it is doing all it can in a "once-in-a-century crisis."

Many, however, including medical experts and opposition leaders, are urging national restrictions, saying a patchwork of state rules isn't enough to curb the surge in cases.  

Contributing: The Associated Press 

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