Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday said that it was “not right” to link the surge in coronavirus cases in India to elections, The Indian Express reported.

Assembly elections have concluded for Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. In the eight-phase West Bengal elections, the last three rounds are still pending.

In an interview to The Indian Express, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader said that the coronavirus cases were rising even in states where elections were not taking place. “Are elections taking place in Maharashtra?” he asked. “As many as 60,000 cases are there, while there are 4,000 here [in West Bengal]. I care about both the states. Cases surged in states where there were no elections. What will you say now?”

The Union minister attributed the massive jump in coronavirus cases to mutations. “Many countries are seeing the surge,” he told The Indian Express. “Scientists are studying it and a conclusion on this will be premature.”

Shah said that while discussions were underway with stakeholders, the current situation does not require the government to impose a lockdown in a hurry. “Initially, the purpose of the lockdown was different,” he told the newspaper. “We wanted to prepare infrastructure and the line of treatment. We did not have any medicines or a vaccine. The situation is different now.”

The home minister added that the Centre will continue discussions with the states. “Whatever the consensus [will be], we shall move forward accordingly,” he said.

Despite the worsening situation in India, political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been addressing massive rallies and roadshows without masks. Experts have also warned that religious gatherings and the farmers’ protest will be super-spreaders of the coronavirus.

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Shah refuted allegations that the Centre was not as alert about the second wave of the coronavirus as it was with the first one. “There were two meetings with chief ministers and I was also present,” he said. “The pace [of spread of the infection] this time is so high that it is bit difficult to fight. But I am confident that we will have a victory over this.”

The Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office on Saturday claimed that Uddhav Thackeray had contacted the Prime Minister’s Office about the acute shortage of medical oxygen and antiviral drug remdesivir, but was told that Narendra Modi was campaigning in West Bengal. The Opposition criticised Modi for allegedly campaigning through the Maharashtra chief minister’s request for help.

Several other states have also complained of shortages of vaccines, oxygen and other supplies crucial to combat the coronavirus. Patients and their acquaintances have taken to social media to seek assistance to find access to oxygen supplies, remedesivir and hospital beds.

However, Shah denied that there was a shortage of vaccines in the country. “Our vaccination program was the fastest in the world,” he told The Indian Express. “In the first 10 days, the number of people who got vaccinated was the highest in India. After the first shot, there has to be a gap and the second one cannot be expedited.”

India is in the grip of a ferocious second wave of Covid-19. On Sunday, the country reported 2,61,500 new coronavirus cases, an unprecedented figure since the pandemic broke out in January 2020, to take its tally to 1,47,88,109. With 1,501 deaths, the toll rose to 1,77,150. The country has recorded over 2 lakh infections for the fourth consecutive day.

Assam minister blames travellers for rise in cases

Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also echoed Shah’s view that there was no link between election rallies and the rise in coronavirus cases, The Times of India reported. Instead, he blamed those travelling to Assam from other states for the surge.

Sarma claimed that coronavirus cases in Assam were only being reported from industrial centres like Guwahati, Jorhat and Tinsukia, where major airports and railways stations are situated, according to the newspaper.

“We carried out studies to see if there was any link between election rallies and new Covid cases, but found that not a single Covid-19 case has been reported from any of the rally venues,” Sarma claimed. “In my constituency, a rally was held at Suwalkuchi on April 4 and not a single Covid case has been reported from there so far.”

The minister also said that all train and air passengers will have to take both rapid antigen and RT-PCR tests upon arrival in Assam, PTI reported.