India’s coronavirus caseload topped 20 million yesterday as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the country’s hospitals and the opposition leader said a nationwide lockdown was now the only way out.
Cricket officials suspended the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL) as the pandemic spirals out of control, with the country adding 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach the first 10 million.
With 3.45 million active cases, India recorded 357,229 new infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 3,449 to 222,408, health ministry data showed.
With hospitals running out of beds and oxygen and morgues and crematoria overflowing, experts say the actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.
According to a Reuters tally, total infections were more than 20.2 million, second only to the United States.
“The only way to stop the spread of corona now is a full lockdown … GOI’s inaction is killing many innocent people,” opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to the government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, widely criticised for allowing religious festivals and political gatherings attended by hundreds of thousands of largely unmasked people, is reluctant to impose a national lockdown for fear of the economic fallout, but several states have imposed social curbs.
The eastern state of Bihar ordered a lockdown until May 15, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said. With more than 100,000 infections, its death toll is nearing 3,000, government figures show.
The surge of the highly infectious Indian variant of the coronavirus has swamped hospitals and depleted supplies of oxygen, while sufferers have died in ambulances and car parks.
Rows of funeral pyres set up in parks and other open spaces are being used to cremate the overflow of corpses. A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court has been holding almost daily video conferences to hear petitions from hospitals seeking oxygen and invoking India’s constitutional right to protection of life.
But some hope surfaced in comments on Monday by a health ministry official who said infections in some regions were levelling out.
Government modelling points to a peak by today, a few days earlier than thought, since the virus has spread faster than expected.
India’s surge has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations due to supply and delivery problems.
At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, reported scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.
On Monday the state had injected 79,491 doses, after a record 534,372 a week ago.
In Modi’s adjoining home state of Gujarat, the three largest cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara limited vaccines to those aged between 18 and 44, officials said.
Meanwhile, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said yesterday eight Asiatic lions housed in Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad have tested positive for SARS-CoV2 virus.
TIRED OF WAITING
The eastern state of Odisha also halted vaccinations in 11 of its 30 districts, health officials told Reuters.
“I am tired of standing in a queue,” said Anil Rajapure, a 49-year-old farmer in Maharashtra’s temple town of Wai, as he waited for his first shot.
“I will try one more time. If I don’t get it then, I will give up,” said Rajapure, adding that three earlier attempts had proved futile, either because stocks had run out or not arrived.
Forecasts by India’s two current vaccine producers show it will take two months or more to boost total monthly output from the current 70 million to 80 million doses.
In neighbouring Nepal, the authorities urgently need at least 1.6 million AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine doses to administer second shots as the Himalayan country is recording a surge in new cases.
“People who have already got the first dose will be in difficulty if they don’t receive their second dose within the stipulated time,” said Samir Adhikari, a senior official of the Ministry of Health and Population in capital Kathmandu.
REVIEW OF SINOVAC
Europe’s medicines watchdog said yesterday it has started reviewing China’s Sinovac coronavirus jab, a process that could lead to eventual approval for the European market.
Made by Sinovac’s Beijing-based Life Sciences unit, the vaccine by the Chinese biotech firm is the second shot developed outside the West after Russia’s Sputnik V to be considered for European use by the European Medicines Agency.
The United States is expected to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children age 12 and up by early next week, US media reported Monday.
Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization for its Covid vaccine for children and teenagers between ages 12 and 15, according to CNN, citing a government official.
The leaders of Europe, meanwhile, were looking to take further steps towards recovery with a proposal to revive international travel and tourism as early as next month.
The European Commission proposed Monday that travellers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved shots – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca – should be allowed to enter the bloc if they are coming from countries where Covid-19 is under control.