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May 2, 2021

India sets new record with over 400,000 corona cases

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May 2, 2021

ISLAMABAD: India´s devastating Covid surge accelerated further on Saturday with more than 400,000 new cases recorded in 24 hours, as it opened its faltering vaccination programme to all adults.

India on Saturday set yet another daily global record with 401,993 new cases, taking its tally to more than 19.5 million. Another 3,688 people died in the past 24 hours, raising the overall fatalities to 215,523. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

Indian authorities lowered their guard in the early part of the year after infections fell, lifting restrictions on most activity and allowing mass religious and political gatherings to take place. Less then two months after the health minister said India was in the "end game" of the pandemic and New Delhi sent millions of vaccines abroad, the surge has sent worried Indians rushing for the jabs still in the country.

A crowd of around 100 people formed outside one Delhi hospital on Saturday as a hospital attendant came out regularly to call out numbers to people who had booked. "There are so many people that are getting sick and if we get better we ensure that other people... do not get infected so we just wanted to be here as soon as possible," said one of those waiting, Aadya Mehta, 25.

Following the recent surge, exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine by India´s Serum Institute and of Bharat Biotech´s homegrown Covaxin have now been frozen to prioritise India´s needs.

Until now, only "frontline" workers like medical staff, people over 45 and those with existing illnesses have been given vaccines. But even this more modest programme has stumbled, with some areas running out of shots and others throwing them away because of a lack of demand, in part because of the recent surge.

“The queues here are so colossal,” said Jayanti Vasant as he waited for hours at a busy vaccination centre in Mumbai this week. “The people are just fighting amongst themselves.”

So far around 150 million shots have been administered, equating to 11.5 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people. Just 25 million have had two shots.

On Saturday the programme was expanded to all Indians over 18, equating to around 600 million people, even though many states said they have insufficient stocks to do so.

Further confusion has been created by New Delhi´s decision to ask states and private hospitals to order vaccine supplies on their own, creating a three-tier pricing system that requires them to pay more per dose than the central government. This has led to squabbles between the central government, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s Bharatiya Janata Party, and states governed by opposition parties.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some private clinics have been told they won´t receive any vials for months, international media reported.

“The whole thing looks like a confused elephant to me right now,” said T Jacob John, a retired clinical virology professor at the Christian Medical College Vellore.

“Do you want to control the epidemic, save lives or both? If you want both you´ll require a huge amount of vaccines. And we don´t have it,” John said.

Meanwhile, Indian capital New Delhi will stay in lockdown for another week because of the surge in Covid cases, the megacity´s chief minister said on Saturday.

“Lockdown in Delhi is being extended by one week,” Arvind Kejriwal said on Twitter.

The current shutdown had been due to expire today (Monday) but the number of cases is still rising fast in the city of 20 million people. According to health ministry data released on Saturday, New Delhi recorded 27,000 new cases and 375 deaths.

But with tests recording a positivity rate of almost 33 percent, experts suspect the real numbers are much higher. The city´s hospitals have been overwhelmed, with lethal shortages of beds, drugs and oxygen meaning many people have been dying outside without treatment. Many of Delhi´s graveyards are now full and many crematoriums are working around the clock and burning bodies in waste ground and car parks.

Meanwhile, a fire in a Covid-19 hospital ward in western India killed 18 patients early Saturday.

Meanwhile, the head of the Serum Institute, the company manufacturing the coronavirus vaccine in India, has relocated to the United Kingdom after allegedly receiving threatening phone calls from some “very powerful” people.

Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla, in an interview with foreign media confessed that has been receiving phone calls from the “most powerful” including Indian chief ministers, business tycoons and others, for instant supplies of Covishield.

The CEO alleged that in the phone calls the “powerful people” have been telling him that if he does not provide the vaccines then it will “not be good” for him. Poonawalla said that he had moved to London for an “extended time” as he does not want to “go back to that situation”.

Meanwhile, India should go into lockdown for several weeks to arrest the current devastating surge in Covid cases, top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said in comments published on Saturday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s government has resisted imposing a national lockdown after a nationwide shutdown a year ago caused widespread human suffering and a painful economic hit.

“I think the most important thing in the immediate is to get oxygen, get supplies, get medication, get PPE, those kinds of things,” the Indian Express daily quoted Fauci as saying in an interview. “But also, one of the immediate things to do is to essentially call a shutdown of the country,” he said.

“And if you shut down, you don´t have to shut down for six months. You can shut down temporarily to put an end to the cycle of transmission,” he added.

“No one likes to lock down the country... But if you do it just for a few weeks, you could have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.”