Vote count in five Indian states under way as pandemic rages

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Vote count in five Indian states under way as pandemic rages

PM Modi’s ruling BJP seeking to consolidate hold over more states as opposition Congress party, regional blocs hope to regain political turf.

India’s election officials started counting votes in five states as COVID-19 cases continue to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.

New cases hit a record daily high of 401,993 on Saturday – the highest total in the world. More than 3,700 people also died – a record in India as well – bringing the total death toll to 211,000.

The country has the second highest number of total cases at 19.1 million next to the United States.

The second wave has overwhelmed hospitals, morgues and crematoriums and left families scrambling for scarce medicines and oxygen. While India is the world’s biggest producer of COVID-19 vaccines, shortages of the shots in some states have hindered the start of a mass vaccination drive.

Vote counting in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry is scheduled to end on Sunday with results to be announced once the tallies are done.

The results are seen as a test of the impact the pandemic’s devastating second wave is having on support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right-wing BJP party.

While Modi’s ruling BJP is seeking to consolidate its hold over more states, the main opposition Congress party and regional parties hope to regain political turf.

More than 1,000 election observers will conduct the counts with each expected to produce a negative COVID-19 test report or show they have been fully vaccinated.

Most of the votes were cast in March but polling in some constituencies continued through April, just as India started detecting thousands of coronavirus infections every day.

Ahead of the surge in COVID-19 cases, leaders of all political parties, including Modi, led political rallies where large crowds flouted rules on social distancing and mask-wearing.

Political analysts said these elections are a crucial chance for Modi to extend his national domination, expand his party’s footprint and dislodge one of his sharpest critics.

Modi has been criticised for focusing on the state elections instead of the pandemic. Some experts blame the rallies and mass religious gatherings attended by millions for the severity of the second wave.

The federal government has also been accused of failing to respond to a warning in early March from its own scientific advisers that a new and more contagious variant was taking hold in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera

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