People in the Indian state of West Bengal are voting in the final phase of elections despite soaring coronavirus cases.
Long queues were seen outside polling booths, raising concerns about further spread of the virus amidst a deadly second wave.
Experts fear West Bengal could be the next epicentre of the virus, as campaigning has continued there.
India reported 379,257 new infections on Thursday, the world’s highest single-day total. It has now reported more than 18.3 million cases, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry also reported 3,645 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 204,832.
Cases in West Bengal rose by 17,000 on Wednesday – a record for the state.
The state has already seen seven phases of voting. West Bengal is one of the few where Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have a majority of parliamentary seats.
Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have faced criticism over the last few weeks for holding huge election rallies in the state, which health experts suggest might have driven the surge there too. Other political parties also participated in rallies.
More than 8 million people are eligible to vote in at least 11,860 polling stations across the state. Election Commission has said social distancing measures would be in place.
Hospitals have been overwhelmed, oxygen is in critically low supply and crematoriums are operating non-stop.
The overall death toll officially surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, though experts believe the actual number could be much higher.
India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge.
A country of nearly 1.4 billion people, India had thought the worst was over when cases ebbed in September. But mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue, and relaxed attitudes on the risks fed by leaders touting victory over the virus led to what now has become a major humanitarian crisis, health experts say. New variants of the coronavirus have also partly led the surge.
Starting Wednesday, all Indians 18 and older were allowed to register on a government app for vaccinations, but social media were flooded with complaints the app had crashed due to high use, and once it was working again, no appointments were available.
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