Shiromani Akali Dal party leader Bikram Singh Majithia greets his supporters at the Golden Gate ahead of the Punjab state assembly elections on Saturday. AFP
India's election commission extended its ban on political rallies and roadshows in five states on Saturday due to rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
The ban, which runs to Jan.22, excludes indoor political party events of less than 300 people, or at 50% of a venue's capacity, the watchdog said in a statement.
India reported 268,833 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking its total tally to 36.84 million, according to data from the federal health ministry. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 402 to 485,752.
Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and a key battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will hold elections starting next month.
The poll in the northern state, which is currently ruled by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, is seen a barometer for national elections due in 2024.
The northern states of Punjab and Uttarakhand, tourist hotspot Goa and the northeastern state of Manipur will also hold elections in coming months.
Modi's government faced criticism last year for its handling of the pandemic during a second wave that overran healthcare systems across the country.
Virus positivity rate crosses 32% in Trivandrum
Earlier during the day, the district authorities in the Kerala state capital have banned all public programmes amid sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 infections.
The authorities also decided to conduct all official meetings online as the Test Positivity Rate (TPR) surged to 32.76 per cent in the city, also the largest in the state, on Saturday.
The district collector Navjot Khoza instructed the police to avoid more than one person in a 25 square feet area in shopping malls.
A family carrying their belongings walks towards a railway station to return to their hometowns in Hyderabad. AFP
Kerala logged 17,755 cases on Saturday from 65,973 samples tested with a TPR of 26.93 per cent, the highest since May 13 last year during the height of the second wave.
Trivandrum reported the highest number of cases (4,694), followed by Ernakulam (2,637), Thrissur (1,731), Kozhikode (1,648) and Kottayam (1,194).
Pathanamthitta logged 863 cases, Kannur 845, Palakkad 835, Kollam 831, Alappuzha 765, Malappuram 728, Idukki 417, Kasaragod 317 and Wayanad 250. The health authorities also confirmed 106 more deaths taking the total number of infections since the outbreak of the pandemic to 50,674.
Kerala has so far vaccinated 99.6 per cent of teenagers and the adult population with a single dose of vaccine and 82 per cent of them have received two jabs.
Among the teenagers, 45 per cent have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the health department data.
The state also reported 48 more cases of the Omicron variant, taking the state’s tally of the new strain to 528, according to the state health department. Of them, 365 came from low-risk countries while 92 arrived from high-risk nations. Sixty one people contracted the disease from contacts and 10 came from other states.
Kerala reported India’s first COVID-19 case on Jan.30, 2020, when three medical students who had returned from the Chinese epicentre of Wuhan tested positive for the virus.
The southern state detected its first Omicron case on Dec.12, 2021, when a person who had returned from the UK tested positive. All these cases were in Kochi.
"Lots of new cases of COVID-19 infections in children are coming in this second wave and the numbers are much, much higher than they were earlier," Dr Krishan Chugh, head of the department of paediatrics at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon, said.
The region is the latest to impose restrictions after similar lockdowns or curfews in many parts of India, which is in the middle of a massive second wave of infections that has swamped its health system.
The country, which has the fourth-highest tally of deaths globally, recorded 400,000 deaths by July 2021 after the devastating outbreak from the Delta variant of the coronavirus, according to official data. Some believe the figures were much higher.
The tally of confirmed infections is 10.96 million, the second highest after the United States, with more than 156,000 deaths. But actual infections could range as high as 300 million, a government serological survey showed this month.
The ministry stressed in a statement that its aim to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment.
USGS said the quake struck at a depth of 51.4 kilometres (32 miles) off the eastern tip of Timor Island, which is split between East Timor and Indonesia.
President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has sent a cable of condolences to His Majesty King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, on the passing of Dr Faisal Al-Yasin, the father of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah.