Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that mucormycosis, or “black fungus”, a rare infection that has sprung up in patients recovering from the coronavirus, has emerged as a new challenge in India’s fight against the pandemic.

The illness includes symptoms such as headache, fever, pain under the eyes, nasal or sinus congestion, and partial loss of vision.

“We must focus on taking precautions [against black fungus] and make preparations to deal with it,” Modi added, while addressing frontline workers in Varanasi.

On Thursday, the Centre had asked the states and Union Territories to declare mucormycosis, or a notifiable disease under the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897.

The move would mean that medical facilities will have to report all suspected and confirmed cases to the health department of the respective states. Medical superintendents of all private and government hospitals will have to send a daily report about cases of “black fungus” to the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.

The prime minister said that India was having to fight on several fronts in the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “This time, the rate of infection is much higher,” Modi said. “Patients have to stay in the hospital longer. This is putting pressure on our health system.”

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Modi said it was the hard work of doctors and health workers that helped manage the crisis. “All of you worked day and night to save the life of each and every patient,” he said. “You rose above your own comfort and problems and continued to work.”

The prime minister said India’s new mantra to handle the Covid-19 crisis is “wherever the disease is, there should be treatment”.

“By creating micro-containment zones on this principle, the way you are distributing medicines in cities and villages at home, this is a very good initiative,” Modi told frontline workers. “This campaign has to be as comprehensive as possible in rural areas.”

India is grappling with a ferocious second wave of the coronavirus, which has overwhelmed the health infrastructure. Several states are grappling with acute shortages of oxygen, vaccines and drugs. Modi and several of his party leaders have been accused of turning a blind eye to events that have propelled the spread of infection, and placing much of the onus on the state governments to manage multiple Covid-related crises in the past weeks.

On Friday morning, India recorded 2,59,551 new coronavirus cases, pushing the infection tally to 2,60,31,991 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The toll climbed by 4,209 to 2,91,331.