New Delhi: India’s two largest cities imposed stringent restrictions on movement and one planned to use hotels and banquet halls to treat coronavirus patients as new infections in the country shot past 200,000 on Thursday amid a devastating surge that is straining a fragile health system.

The soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic – and have forced the country to delay exports of vaccines abroad. India is a major producer of COVID-19 shots, and its pivot to focus on domestic demand has weighed heavily on global efforts to end the pandemic.

Municipal workers in protective suits sanitise themselves after cremating a COVID-19 victim in Mumbai on Thursday.Credit:AP

New Delhi announced stay-at-home orders for the weekend, though essential workers will be able to move about if they have a pass from local authorities. Restaurants, malls, gyms and spas will be shut down. Movie theatres will close on weekends, but can operate on weekdays at a third of their capacity.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s top elected official, said that despite the rise in infections, 5000 hospital beds are still available in the capital and more capacity is being added. But still, more than a dozen hotels and wedding banquet halls were ordered to be converted into COVID-19 centres where doctors from nearby hospitals will treat the moderately ill.

“The surge is alarming,” said SK Sarin, a government health expert in New Delhi.

The moves in the capital came after similar measures were imposed in the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital, Mumbai. The bustle of India’s biggest city ebbed after authorities closed most industries, businesses and public places on Wednesday night and put limits on the movement of people for 15 days. Train and plane travel was still allowed, however.

In recent days, the city has seen an exodus of panic-stricken day labourers, hauling backpacks and flocking to overcrowded trains.

Dozens of other towns and cities have also imposed night-time curfews.

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