Published: 2022-01-12 10:53:55 BdST
The overall death toll from COVID-19 reached 484,655.
In a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus, India began administering COVID-19 vaccine boosters to front-line workers and vulnerable elderly people on Monday, with the omicron variant fuelling a rise in daily infections.
It reported 168,063 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, a 20-fold rise in a month.
The health ministry said only 5% to 10% of the infected have sought hospitalisation, compared with 20% to 23% during the delta-driven last wave that peaked in May. Authorities in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai say most people have shown no or only minor symptoms and have recovered quickly at home.
"The situation is dynamic and evolving, therefore, the need for hospitalisation may also change rapidly," Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to state authorities asking them to regularly review staffing levels.
Meanwhile, nearly one million Hindu worshippers are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges river this Friday and Saturday for a holy bathe despite galloping COVID-19 infections across the country, an official told Reuters on Tuesday.
Most infected people have recovered at home and the level of hospitalisations has been less than half of that seen during the last major wave of infections in April and May.
Many states have announced night curfews while the capital Delhi has also imposed a weekend lockdown, closed private offices as well as restaurants and bars in a bid to rein in the fast-spreading omicron variant.
But tens of thousands of pilgrims have already reached the site of the annual Ganges ritual on an island in the eastern state of West Bengal, which is reporting the most number of cases in the country after Maharashtra state in the west.
"The crowd may swell to anywhere between 800,000 to one million. We are trying to implement all COVID protocols," Bankim Chandra Hazra, a West Bengal minister in charge of organising the festival known as the Gangasagar Mela, told Reuters.
"We have also arranged for sprinkling of the holy water from drones so that there is no crowding ... but the sadhus (Hindu holy men) are bent on taking the dip. We can't prevent them."
A similar big religious festival in the north of India last year helped spread the Delta variant that infected millions of people and killed tens of thousands.
The Calcutta High Court, responding to a plea from doctors who are worried the festival could become a virus "super spreader" event, ruled on Tuesday that all pilgrims must be tested for COVID-19.