India saw a grim global record of 401,993 daily Covid-19 cases on Saturday even as it struggled to conduct the biggest round of its vaccination drive despite a shortage of doses.
The new infections took the country’s caseload past 19 million. The total death toll stands at nearly 212,000 with Covid-19 claiming 3,523 lives in the past 24 hours, government data showed.
Hit by a second wave of the pandemic, India is the first country to cross 400,000 daily cases, after it reported 300,000 daily infections for nine straight days.
The virus surge has overwhelmed health care systems, with reports that several patients have died outside hospitals for want of hospital beds or medical oxygen.
Hospitals in New Delhi have repeatedly sent out distress messages over oxygen shortages for the past 10 days, with the situation showing little improvement.
Eight Covid-19 patients died at Delhi’s Batra Hospital on Saturday after it ran short of oxygen supplies, hospital director Sudhanshu Bankata said.
In a hearing on the matter, the Delhi High Court came down heavily on the government and ordered it to ensure oxygen supplies “by whatever means,” the IANS news agency reported.
“Water has gone above the head. You have to arrange everything now. You have made the allocations. You have to fulfil them. Eight lives have been lost. We can’t shut our eyes to it,” the court told the government counsel, warning of contempt proceedings against officials if the orders were not obeyed.
Besides health care, the inoculation campaign in India, among the world’s biggest vaccine producers, is floundering too.
As the federal government widened the drive on Saturday to include all adults over 18 years, worst-hit states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh as well as capital New Delhi said they were delaying the new round because they had not been assured of adequate supplies.
Private hospital chains in cities like Delhi and Bengaluru who sourced the jabs directly from suppliers said they were carrying out a limited number of vaccinations.
“We have waited to get this vaccine for months. It is crucial that we get inoculated and help the world beat this horrible pandemic,” Divya, a 37-year-old homemaker, told broadcaster NDTV at a south Delhi hospital.
Vaccines in India are in relatively short supply given its large population of more than 1.3 billion people.
Some 600 million more people became eligible for the jab under the vaccine drive on Saturday, in addition to the 300 million over-45s who were already eligible.
India began vaccinations in January but even the previous round to inoculate those above 45 has faltered with only 10 per cent of those eligible having received one dose; less than 2 per cent have been fully vaccinated.
Daily vaccination rates have fallen in recent days. Only 2.7 million doses were administered on Friday compared to a peak of 4.5 million doses on April 5.
Given its population, India needs to carry out between 5-10 million vaccinations daily to control the pandemic, epidemiologists say. The country currently produces around 75 million doses a month and is expected to reach 100 million monthly doses by June, domestic media reported.
Government policy makers hope the vaccine supplies will improve in the coming months, as production is ramped up and new vaccines such as Russia’s Sputnik V have recently been approved.
Experts have attributed the surge to more infectious variants including those first detected in Britain and India, people’s failure to observe safety measures as well as state election rallies and lengthy festivities in recent weeks.
The US and Australia have restricted travel from India, with Canberra even warning of jail terms for those trying to return home.
Premier Narendra Modi on Friday evening held a cabinet meeting to discuss measures to save the health infrastructure by adding hospital beds and tackling shortages of medical oxygen and anti-viral drugs.
Emphasizing that the surge in Covid-19 infections marked a “once in a century crisis” and a “big challenge for the world,” Modi asked his ministers to help people.
Several nations, including the US, Britain, Germany and Japan have pledged support to India during the crisis.
Germany sent its first batch of medical aid – comprising 120 ventilators – to India on Saturday.
A 13-member team of experts were also on board the German air force plane to New Delhi and would stay in India for two weeks, a spokesperson told dpa.
The US dispatched its first emergency consignment on Friday, part of 100 million dollars’ worth of supplies including oxygen cylinders and diagnostic kits. It has also promised raw materials needed to boost production of Covid-19 vaccines in India.
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