India's financial capital Mumbai imposed fresh coronavirus restrictions on Monday as a rise in cases in the worst-affected region sparked fears of a new wave, while the country's vast inoculation drive fell behind schedule.
All religious, social and political gatherings are banned in the city and the surrounding western state of Maharashtra, home to 110 million people, after infections spiked to levels last seen in October.
The rise in cases comes as the government is sharply criticised for approving a herbal cocktail, Coronil, as an "anti-Covid-19 medication."
Public health experts have accused Harsh Vardhan, India’s health minister, of promoting pseudoscience and putting millions of lives at risk.
Mr Vardhan, along with senior cabinet minister Nitin Gadkari, released a “scientific research paper” on Friday endorsing Coronil as an anti-Covid drug developed by a company owned by yoga evangelist Baba Ramdev.
Mr Vardhan said the Indian government and the yoga evangelist have shared dreams regarding the promotion of ayurvedic treatments.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) called it a “false and fabricated projection of an unscientific medicine by the health minister to the entire country”.
“This is a blatant deceiving of people of the country. We have asked the health minister to explain how it is justified to release such falsely fabricated unscientific product to the people of India,” said IMA National President Dr J A Jayalal.
Dr Jayalal said India would face severe consequences of the Covid in the future if Coronil was used as an anti-Covid drug as it would push quite a lot of people into the worst category of the disease.
Shriprakash Kalantri, professor of medicine at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, said: “If we endorse a medicine based on seriously unsound research, we are harming both science and people.”
Mr Ramdev in TV interviews even claimed the WHO has licensed Coronil for sale in more than 150 countries, which the WHO has refuted.
The government endorsement of the herbal cocktail as an anti-Covid-19 medication has come when India is witnessing a fresh spike in infections.
Public health experts have attributed the spike in new infections in five states to 240 new strains of the virus that have surfaced across India.
India's tough nationwide lockdown imposed in March 2020 has largely been relaxed, with even its famously lavish weddings and cricket crowds returning, albeit with numbers capped.
Daily new cases peaked at more than 97,000 in September but have been falling sharply, coming in at under 9,000 a day earlier this month.
But the past two weeks have seen an uptick, with around 14,000 new infections on Monday, the biggest rise coming in Maharashtra, taking India's total past 11 million since the pandemic began with 156,000 deaths.