Around 1 in 3 cases of COVID-19 recorded worldwide each day are now in India, where the rate of new infections is increasing faster than in any other country.
A second wave of COVID-19 infections in India has completely overwhelmed the country’s medical infrastructure as families make desperate appeals for oxygen and other life-saving supplies on social media.
In the capital of New Delhi, mortuaries are using mass cremations to dispose of the bodies of COVID victims. In some hospitals, patients wait outside in ambulances due to a lack of ventilators inside.
Volunteers also mobilized to resolve supply issues, including India cares, a community of over 3,000 people using social media to find everything from blood donors to oxygen and medicine.
Mohd Saqib, a 23-year-old student who recently became involved with the organization, told BuzzFeed News that calls for help are increasing every day.
“We are losing our Indian family daily,” Saqib said. “When a person [makes a] asks and then after a while we know that the same person is no longer, that moment is the worst. “
In an emergency meeting chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, officials agreed to divert oxygen intended for industrial use to meet immediate medical needs and to use the country’s transportation networks to deliver more quickly deliver supplies to states most in need.
Modi also called on states to take stronger action on the potential hoarding of supplies.
India escaped the worst of COVID-19 in the pandemic’s first year. Although the country ranks fourth in the world for its official global toll, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico, its death rate was low compared to its population of nearly 1.4 billion. And as India entered 2021, the disease appeared to be under control, as cases and deaths had fallen from a high in September.
But since March, the country has seen an explosion of infections, suspected to be due to a new variant of the coronavirus called B.1.617. India’s National Institute of Virology reported that this variant has taken the lead in transmissions, appearing in about 61% of cases tested in one province last week. It is sometimes called the “double mutant” variant because it contains two mutations associated with increased contagion; its role in the outbreak in India remains unclear due to limited medical testing for variants in that country.
Today, around 1 in 3 COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide each day are in India, and the rate of new infections is increasing faster than in any other country. About 2,000 COVID-related deaths are also recorded there each day, about one sixth of the global total. But a Financial Times analysis based on cremation records suggests that many people who die from COVID-19 in India are not counted in official statistics.
As his health system is on the verge of collapse, Giridhar R. Babu, epidemiologist with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), has warned that “this will not be the last wave nor the last pandemic either”.
In an interview with local media, Babu said the current situation in India should be of global concern.
“If disease control is neglected in some parts of the world, all other parts are at risk of importing infections,” Babu said. “We need to strictly and meticulously examine the COVID situation in the country while expanding immunization coverage.
“Strong public health leadership and resources should be available to build resident systems, including strengthening epidemiological and genomic surveillance of COVID-19 to detect outbreaks. It is unrealistic to expect tangible gains without a strong focus on strengthening the health system, especially without strengthening human resource recruitment and capacity building. “
The situation in India has been partly blamed on the government, with critics including the chairman of PHFI accusing the Modi administration of prematurely declaring a victory against the virus when efforts should have been made to bolster the country’s medical infrastructure. country.
Instead, Indian election authorities announced key elections in five states, the country’s cricket council gave the green light for an international match with a stadium packed with spectators, and the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival brought in millions. of people in Haridwar for the holy occasion.
India’s growing COVID-19 crisis is also very bad news for the global effort to vaccinate people against the coronavirus. The Serum Institute of India in Pune is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and has been commissioned to manufacture 200 million initial doses of a version of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine for COVAX, a collaboration between WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which aims to bring affordable vaccines to developing countries around the world.
But the rollout of national vaccines in India has struggled, with just 1.4% of the population currently fully vaccinated against COVID-19. At the end of March, India suspended its vaccine exports to divert supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine to its own vaccination campaign.
The Serum Institute of India has also signed an agreement to produce around one billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by the US company Novavax once it gets its approval. Thus, additional pressure to use the country’s vaccine production capacity to bolster its own failing program will have ripple effects across the world. India has also argued that US export controls on raw materials used to make vaccines would hamper its ability to meet global demand.
The United States is also under pressure to donate around 20 million doses of unused AstraZeneca vaccine that has not yet been approved for use by the FDA. AstraZeneca said it will soon have 30 million US doses, although the US agreed to send 4 million doses to Canada and Mexico in March. Asked about donating these stocks from AstraZeneca, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Friday that the United States would “explore options” to ship surplus vaccines overseas ” as our confidence in our own supply increased ”. He pointed to President Joe Biden’s $ 4 billion pledge to COVAX in February as an indication of the country’s support for global immunization.
Meanwhile, the CDC is consulting with Indian health officials and offering technical assistance, said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“It is a dire situation that we are trying to help in any way we can,” he said. “Obviously, they need to vaccinate their people.”