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India to pump billions into COVID-19 fight as health system continues to struggle

India to pump billions into COVID-19 fight as health system continues to struggle

Relatives react to heat emitting from the multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium in the outskirts of New Delhi on Apr 29, 2021. (File photo: AP/Amit Sharma)

NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday (May 5) pledged billions of dollars to boost its flagging vaccine programme as the country's new COVID-19 cases rose by 382,315, the 14th straight day of more than 300,000 cases.

With vaccines among the main weapons in the fight against the pandemic, pharma giant Pfizer reported a huge jump in profits based on sales of its COVID-19 shot as a growing campaign called for patent waivers so poorer nations can get quicker access.

Among the leaders of that campaign is India, which reported nearly 3,800 more deaths on Wednesday - a national record - as it grapples with one of the world's worst outbreaks.

"The devastating speed with which the virus affects different regions of the country has to be matched by swift and wide-ranging actions," said Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das, as he announced US$6.7 billion in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms.

Experts have warned that case numbers will keep rising until the end of May and could reach 500,000 new infections a day.

India's underfunded health system has struggled to cope with this wave, with patients dying in hospital parking lots due to a lack of beds and medical oxygen.

The government expanded its massive vaccination programme to all adults last week, but many states are facing shortages.

READ: COVID-19 scare at G7 meeting after Indian delegates test positive

A patient suffering from COVID-19 receives treatment inside the casualty ward at a hospital in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui) FILE PHOTO: A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receives treatment inside the casualty ward at a hospital in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

While New Delhi and other major cities have imposed curfews and other restrictions, the government has resisted opposition calls for a nationwide lockdown as it tries to avoid the economic downturn that accompanied such restrictions last year.

"The poor have nothing left," Vimala Devi, a 61-year-old homemaker in Delhi, told AFP on Tuesday.

"We are just left to die on the streets."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave of the virus. Religious festivals and political rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in super spreader events.

"We need a government. Desperately. And we don’t have one. We are running out of air. We are dying," wrote Indian author Arundhati Roy in an opinion piece published on Tuesday calling for Modi to step down.

"This is a crisis of your making. You cannot solve it. You can only make it worse ... So please go. It is the most responsible thing for you to do. You have forfeited the moral right to be our prime minister."

Two "oxygen express" trains reached the capital Delhi on Wednesday carrying desperately needed liquid oxygen, Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal said on Twitter. More than 25 trains have so far delivered oxygen to different parts of India.

READ: India accounts for 46% of world's new COVID-19 cases, quarter of deaths

Mukesh Bhardwaj cries as he sits next to his wife, who receives oxygen support for free for people suffering from breathing problems, outside a Sikh temple in Ghaziabad, India, May 3, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

India's government says there are enough oxygen supplies but distribution has been hindered by transport problems.

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.

India's surge in infections 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, have reported a scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.


India's opposition has called for a nationwide lockdown, but the government is reluctant to impose a shutdown for fear of the economic fallout, although several states have imposed social curbs.

India's central bank asked banks on Wednesday to let certain borrowers have more time to repay loans as the surge in infections impacts a nascent economic revival.

READ: India COVID-19 infections top 20 million, top cricket league suspended

A healthcare worker gives a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, to a woman inside a classroom of a school in New Delhi, India, May 4, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

In the remote state of Mizoram which borders Myanmar, beds are in such short supply in Zoram Medical College, the state’s biggest COVID-19 hospital, that all non-COVID patients have been asked to leave, said government official Dr ZR Thiamsanga.

Only three out of 14 ventilators are still available.

"In my opinion, a complete lockdown is required to control the situation," he told Reuters from the state capital Aizawl.

Medical experts say the actual numbers of dead and infected in India could be five to 10 times the official tallies. The country added 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach the first 10 million.

Daily testing in India has fallen sharply to 1.5 million, state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Wednesday. It hit a peak of 1.95 million on Saturday.

Public health experts believe India will not reach herd immunity any time soon but say hospitalisations and deaths will reduce significantly in six to nine months, according to a report in The Economic Times.

READ: IPL's foreign cricket stars scramble to escape coronavirus-hit India

Herd immunity is when a high enough proportion of the population is vaccinated or been infected and developed antibodies so that one infected person could theoretically only infect less than one person, halting the spread of the virus.

Cricket officials suspended the hugely popular, money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL) on Tuesday as players tested positive.

India's cricket board will help to move Australia's entire IPL cohort to the Maldives or Sri Lanka in coming days, Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley said on Wednesday.

Australia has banned travellers from India who have been in the country within the prior 14 days but Hockley said the players would wait outside India for approval to head home.

Eight Asiatic lions at a zoo in the southern city of Hyderabad have contracted the coronavirus, the government said on Tuesday, adding that there was no evidence that animals could transmit the disease to humans.

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Source: AGENCIES/zl


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