India has the world’s second highest total Covid-19 caseload – Anupam Nath/AP

Delhi has recorded its highest single-day Covid-19 death toll, as cases in India’s densely-populated capital continue to surge amid a nationwide drop in new infections.

On Thursday, Delhi reported 104 fatalities and over 7,000 new infections for the eighth consecutive day, with its “third wave” coinciding with falling temperatures and air pollution rising to severe levels.

The number of new daily cases in India, which has recorded the world’s second-highest total caseload, has halved since a September peak of just under 100,000, but public health experts warn the drop could be attributed to a decrease in testing in many states.

Saturday will mark the major Hindu festival of Diwali and there are fears cases will rise again nationwide as large family groups gather to celebrate and exchange gifts.

Covid-19 has caused economic devastation across India, pushing the country into a recession for the first time in its history and many are ignoring social distancing rules because they have to return to work or face destitution. 

The “Covid-19 fatigue” has been clearly seen in the lead up to Diwali, where there has been more outrage over the banning of firecrackers in seven states, in an attempt to reduce air pollution, than hospitals in Delhi again running out of intensive care unit beds.

India’s densely-populated capital of New Delhi saw a record number of Covid-19 deaths yesterday – Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Several studies, including one from researchers at Harvard University, have suggested a link between rising air pollution and increased Covid-19 cases, as particles can damage the lungs and arteries.

On Wednesday, India’s Finance Ministry announced a fresh £15.2 billion stimulus package for its beleaguered economy which contracted by a record 23.8 percent in the three months until June end while the nation was under a draconian lockdown. 

An estimated 400 million Indians were pushed further into poverty as they were confined to their homes and unable to work and industry has been slow to re-open over fears of Covid-19 spreading.

A new study by the Azim Premji University in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru has found that women were the most adversely impacted, with two-thirds of the female workforce losing their jobs by April.

Indian society remains patriarchal and as companies laid off their employees under lockdown, women were the first to go, while others were forced to quit their jobs to look after children after schools shut across the country. 

With 68 percent of women previously in work now unemployed, this has led to fear among activists that it will increase societal preference for male babies in India.

Boys are viewed as financial assets as they will work and care for their parents when they become old, while girls will marry into another household but her family will usually have to pay an expensive dowry.

Before Covid-19 struck, 899 girls were born to every 1,000 boys in urban India, with illegal sex-selective abortions and IVF still widely available. 

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