NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Authorities in Delhi on Tuesday ordered people to stay home over coming weekends having seen COVID-19 cases quadruple in a week, with its chief minister saying he had caught the virus just a day after he addressed an election rally without a mask.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the most senior elected official of the Indian capital's administration, was one of the 37,379 new COVID-19 cases reported in India in the past 24 hours. Deaths in the past day totaled 124.
The daily case load was the highest since early September and experts suspect the highly transmissible Omicron variant has begun to overtake the Delta variant as the latest wave of coronavirus infection builds in places like Delhi, though authorities say hospitalisations have not spiked yet.
Delhi is reporting more than 4,000 new cases a day, and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said though most patients were showing mild or no symptoms and recovering fast, people will have to stay indoors on Saturday and Sundays to rein in the virus.
On weekdays, most offices will have ensure that half their employees work from home, he told a media briefing, adding that when possible infected people should stay home so that hospitals are able to handle the most serious cases.
Kejriwal, who addressed an election rally in the state of Uttarakhand, said on Twitter he had isolated at home with mild symptoms and urged anyone he had been in contact with during recent days to do likewise and get tested for COVID-19.
Neither the chief minister or any of the people seen sharing the dais with him during the rally wore masks.
Facebook user Abhishekh Singh posted a message on Kejriwal's official page telling the chief minister he should reflect on his behaviour.
"Try spending some time in isolation to watch your own videos/advertisements on how to be careful, wear masks, and not overcrowd public places," he wrote.
Mega-rallies last year helped Delta wreak havoc in the country, and with several state elections due in coming months alarm is growing among health experts and the public, and there are media reports that a court in the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh has urged authorities to delay polls there.
Federal government guidance has been for local authorities to impose movement curbs if more than 5% of COVID-19 tests were positive. Delhi crossed that point on Monday, with 6% of people testing positive.
India's overall positive case rate has nearly tripled since early November to 3.24% on Tuesday, and some cities have already closed schools and colleges.
It can take days to confirm the strain of a virus through genomic sequencing, and the federal home ministry has so far confirmed just 1,892 Omicron cases countrywide, most of them in Mumbai's home state of Maharashtra, followed by Delhi.
Since the pandemic first swept into India in January 2020, the country has recorded 34.96 million cases, including 482,017 deaths.