India's COVID-19 cases topped 24 million late Friday and 4,000 people died as the country's health crisis stretches into neighboring Nepal, Reuters reported Saturday.

A very contagious variant of the virus has spread panic across India's heavily populated rural areas, where two-thirds of the country's people have limited access to health care.

India's variant has been detected in eight countries in the Americas, including the U.S. and Canada, Jairo Mendez, an infectious diseases expert with the World Health Organization, said.

The World Health Organization said earlier this week India's new COVID-19 variant was now classified as a "variant of global concern," in the wake of rising infections in the country and study that shows the modified virus may be transmitted more easily.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government was on a "war footing" to contain the infections. Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of Ramadan Friday were subdued, as most states implemented partial or full lockdowns and closed down mosques.

"The outbreak is reaching rural areas with great speed...I want to once again warn all those who live in villages about corona," Reuters quoted the prime minister as saying.

India's state-run television has broadcast images of people weeping over the dead in rural hospitals or camping in wards to tend the sick, while bodies have washed up in the Ganges as crematoriums are overwhelmed, according to the report.

Meanwhile, three of the close contacts of an overseas Filipino worker found to be infected with the variant from India have tested positive for COVID-19, the Philippines's health department said Saturday, according to ABS-CBN News.