Medical workers tend to a patient suffering from COVID-19 in Holy Family Hospital, New Delhi, April 29, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
New Delhi: India’s daily death toll due to COVID-19 continues to rise, hitting a record of 4,529 deaths in the last 24 hours. The country recorded 2.67 lakh new infections in the day.
The government said about 98% of India‘s population of 1.3 billion remained susceptible to infections.
Only the United States has had more cases, or a worse single day death toll, when it lost 5,444 people on February 12. But whereas the epidemic there peaked months ago, there is no certainty that India‘s infections have.
Though the official count shows new infections subsiding, there are fears that the new, highly infectious B.1.617 variant, first found in India, is out of control and that many cases are going unreported due to lack of testing.
Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, has suffered a 30% increase in infections since May 2, while the total number of vaccinations it administered last week was just 1.1 million – half the total of a month earlier.
Cyclone Tuaktae, which has killed at least 19 people and caused widespread devastation, has exacerbated efforts to tackle the pandemic in Gujarat, with vaccinations suspended and hospitals awaiting back-up generators to keep power running and additional oxygen supplies.
Vaccinations are likely to remain suspended at least until Wednesday, a government official said.
Sunaina Tomar, energy secretary in Gujarat state, said 81 hospitals designated for coronavirus patients had faced power supply disruption, along with 16 other hospitals, and 19 oxygen refilling plants.
“Power supply has been restored to 29 COVID hospitals, 12 other hospitals, and six oxygen units, and work to restore supply is going on at a war footing at other places,” she said in a statement.
Gujarat’s health secretary Jayanti Ravi said teams were working to ensure that roads remained clear for emergency medical requirements despite the damage caused by the cyclone.
‘Struggling’ vaccination drive
In neighbouring Maharashtra, which was sideswiped by the cyclone on Monday, 1,000 coronavirus deaths were reported overnight – the worst toll nationwide. The infection rate there has soared 15% in the last two weeks, government data showed.
The pace of vaccinations in Maharashtra has fallen 30% since peaking in early April, data from the government’s Co-WIN portal showed.
Since April 1, 269 doctors nationwide have died of COVID-19, 78 of them in the mostly rural state of Bihar, the Indian Medical Association said.
“The surge has been very devastating,” its secretary-general, Jayesh Lele, told Reuters.
In Uttar Pradesh, rural areas have been severely hit, as healthcare systems have struggled to cope.
Incensed by scarce testing and tracing, a state court said on Monday the situation was turning to “God’s mercy” and hurtling towards a third wave.
“If this is the state of affairs of five districts, one can guess where we are leading people of this state to, i.e. (a) third wave of the pandemic,” said the Allahabad high court.
Modi’s popularity has fallen to 63%, its lowest since US data intelligence firm Morning Consult began tracking it in 2019, amid the criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic.
Chandrakant Lahariya, a public policy and health systems expert, said in the Hindustan Times newspaper that India‘s vaccine policy urgently needed a reset.
“The political leadership should give a free hand to technical experts to decide and implement new strategies,” he said.
India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, halted exports a month ago after donating or selling more than 66 million doses, and government sources told Reuters it was unlikely to resume major exports of vaccines until at least October to prioritise domestic needs.
The Serum Institute, India‘s largest vaccine producer, said it would continue to scale up its production of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and start exporting to other countries by the end of the year.
India is one of the countries likely to benefit from US President Joe Biden’s announcement on Monday that his administration would send at least 20 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.
(With agency inputs)