India has passed a grim milestone of 20 million Covid-19 cases amid growing calls for the country to go into a national lockdown.

On Tuesday, May 4, India reported 357,229 new cases over the last 24 hours, while the number of deaths rose by 3,449 as a deadly wave of the virus showed no signs of relenting.

Many health experts believe India’s true death toll to be five to 10 times higher than official data.

As the country continued to grapple with oxygen shortages and a lack of hospital beds and ICU facilities for coronavirus patients, as well as crematoriums overloaded with bodies, the Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called for a nationwide lockdown.

“The only way to stop the spread of corona now is a full lockdown,” said Gandhi on Twitter. He said the government’s “inaction is killing many innocent people”.

He was echoed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, who recommended a nationwide lockdown and an amping up of the country’s vaccination drive to bring infections under control. “The situation in India is extremely serious,” said Fauci.

Many of India’s worst-hit states and cities are under regional lockdowns, including Delhi and Mumbai, but the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has resisted imposing a countrywide lock because of the huge economic toll it would take.

India’s first nationwide lockdown, imposed in March 2020, caused a disastrous humanitarian crisis among day-wage workers and pushed an estimated 75 million people into poverty.

However, the relentless surge in Covid-19 cases is bringing India’s health system to its knees. On Monday, as many as 23 patients died in a hospital in the state of Karnataka when oxygen supplies ran low.

In a significant ruling, the Delhi high court announced it would start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals were not delivered. “Enough is enough,” it said.

The capital, Delhi, meanwhile, marked its most deadly day of the pandemic on Monday, with 448 Covid-19 fatalities.

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