India overtakes Brazil as country with second-largest Covid caseload

India’s drugs regulator looked set to approve a third coronavirus vaccine – Russia’s Sputnik V – as cases continued to soar in the country, taking its total caseload past Brazil.

India reported 168,912 new cases on Monday, according to Health Ministry data, marking the sixth record rise in a week and taking the total number of cases to 13.5 million, second only to that of United States.

The death count has been rising steadily and now stands at 170,179, with 904 new deaths reported on Monday.

The state of Maharashtra, the worst-hit in India, reported 63,294 new cases. It is struggling with a shortage of ventilator-supported ICU beds and oxygen cylinders, the NDTV news agency reported.

Remdesivir, a drug used to treat critical Covid-19 patients, was also in short supply in the state. India banned export of the drug on Sunday amid reports of hoarding and inflated prices.

The highest spike in cases after Maharashtra was recorded in the central state of Uttar Pradesh and the adjoining national capital New Delhi, which has reported 10,774 new cases since Sunday.

Both Maharashtra, which has the financial hub of Mumbai as its capital, and New Delhi are mulling state-wide lockdowns, NDTV reported citing government sources.

The Supreme Court, which is located in Delhi, said its judges would be operating from home through videoconferencing as 44 of 90 staffers tested on Sunday were positive for Covid-19.

Several Indian states have also flagged dwindling supplies of coronavirus vaccines and the approval of a third vaccine would be timely.

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An expert panel set up by India’s drugs regulator on Monday recommended granting emergency use approval to Sputnik V developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, a source associated with the matter said.

The Drugs Controller General of India has to give the vaccine formal approval before the drug is introduced in India’s vaccination programme. The DCGI routinely approves drugs recommended by its expert panels.

So far, Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s vaccine – manufactured by India’s Serum Institute under the name Covishield – and Bharat Biotech Limited’s Covaxin developed in collaboration with the state-funded Indian Council of Medical Research – are two vaccines approved for India’s mass immunization programme.

Indian pharmaceutical firm Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Limited, which has partnered with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to carry out third phase human bridging trials in India, had on February 19 requested emergency use authorization for Sputnik V.

The RDIF has also entered agreements with five other Indian pharmaceutical firms for production of Sputnik.


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