India suspends IPL over skyrocketing covid-19 cases, as opposition chief calls for lockdown

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India halted its most popular sports tournament on Tuesday and the country’s opposition chief called for a nationwide lockdown as the number of coronavirus infections climbed past 20 million, a dismal milestone crossed only by the United States.

Cricket officials suspended the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL), after the country added 10 million cases in just over four months, versus the more than 10 months taken for the first 10 million.

“These are difficult times, especially in India, and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the IPL said in a statement.

With 3.45 million active cases, India recorded 357,229 new infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose 3,449 for a toll of 222,408, health ministry data showed. Experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher, however.

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

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown for fear of the economic fallout, but several states have imposed social curbs.

The impoverished eastern state of Bihar ordered a lockdown until May 15 to curb the virus, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said on Twitter. With more than 100,000 infections, its death toll is nearing 3,000, government figures show.

The cricket-obsessed nation’s halt to the IPL tournament was a result of the virus crisis, its chairman, Brijesh Patel, told Reuters. The tournament, with an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion, was being played without spectators to a huge television audience this year but has been severely criticized for continuing at a time when the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of a collapse.

REUTERS