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India’s vaccine drive crumbles as daily virus cases near 400,000

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India's vaccine drive crumbles as daily virus cases near 400,000

India registered 386,452 new coronavirus cases on Friday, yet another global record for infections in a single day, even as the country’s new round of vaccinations appeared uncertain, with many states citing lack of doses.

Covid-19 claimed 3,498 lives in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 208,330, data from the federal Health Ministry showed.

India has logged over 300,000 cases for the ninth straight day, recording globally record-breaking infection numbers in the worst outbreak seen to date.

India’s vaccination drive is set to open to everyone older than 18 years from Saturday, but many states said they had run out of doses.

Worst-hit major states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and national capital New Delhi said they had not been assured of adequate supplies and would not be able to start the vaccinations on Saturday.

India’s financial hub of Mumbai closed vaccinations for three days from Friday citing insufficient stocks.

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of New Delhi, the worst-hit city, told residents not to queue up for vaccines on Saturday and said people would be informed once new stocks arrive.

Only 2.2 million people were vaccinated on Thursday, the lowest daily figure for vaccinations in the past 10 days, broadcaster NDTV reported, indicating how the vaccine drive was floundering.

Daily vaccinations had peaked at 4.5 million doses on April 5, but the numbers have dropped since then.

As many as 25 million have already registered for the new vaccination round on a government portal since Thursday, after the initial drive began in January.

So far only 10 per cent of the eligible people aged 45 years and above have received at least one vaccine dose.

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Vaccines in India are in short supply given its large population of more than 1.3 billion – even though India produces vaccines en masse and is known as the “pharmacy of the world.”

Palaniappan Chidambaram, senior leader from the opposition Congress party, said no state was ready for the next phase of inoculations and called for Health Minister Harsh Vardhan to resign over the failures of the campaign.

“His [Harsh Vardhan’s] claim and his government’s claim that there are sufficient stocks of vaccines with the states will be blown away,” Chidambaram said.

India, with a total caseload 18.7 million cases, is seeing a devastating second coronavirus wave since mid-February that has overwhelmed hospitals and caused shortages of medical supplies.

The surge has been driven by 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.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 38 per cent of coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week were from India.

Opposition leaders and domestic media have slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government for misreading the situation and implementing a laggard response to the crisis.

In the first months of the year, India had donated and exported several million jabs, mostly to poorer countries. In early March, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan declared the country was “in the endgame” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But now, several countries including Britain and Germany are sending medical aid to India. More than 40 countries have promised to send supplies so far, the government said.

India received the first emergency consignment from the United States early on Friday, part of 100 million dollars’ worth of supplies including oxygen cylinders, masks and diagnostic kits.

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