India has reported 161,736 new coronavirus infections, again reaching the world’s highest daily tally, for a total of 13.69 million cases, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
Numbers usually drop on Tuesdays due to late weekend test results. Deaths increased from 879 to 171,058. Even those numbers, experts say, are likely lower than reality.
Over the past week, India has recorded an average of more than 130,000 cases per day. Its record has exceeded that of Brazil Monday, making it second behind the United States in the number of coronavirus infections, although both countries have much smaller populations.
Almost every state in India is seeing an increase in cases as new daily infections hit record highs, and experts say missteps stemming from the belief the pandemic was ‘over’ are coming back to haunt the country.
“No one has had a long-term view of the pandemic,” Dr Vineeta Bal, who studies immune systems at the Indian Institute of Scientific Education and Research, told the AP news agency. .
When infections started to drop in India in September, many concluded that the worst was over. Masks and social distancing have been dropped, while the government has given mixed signals on the level of risk.
When cases started to rise again in February, authorities were left behind, with some saying the government’s confused messages failed to communicate the risk.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted the need for people to wear masks due to the “alarming” increase in infections. But in recent weeks, while campaigning for an election, he has delivered speeches to tens of thousands of supporters without a mask.
The federal government also allowed huge gatherings during Hindu festivals like the Kumbh Mela (Pitcher Festival) celebrated in the Himalayan city of Haridwar, where millions of worshipers take a holy dip every day in the Ganges.
Responding to concerns that this could turn into a “mass market” event, Chief Minister of State Tirath Singh Rawat said: “Faith in God will overcome fear of the virus.”
“Optics are so important and we’re messing it up,” Dr Shahid Jameel, who studies viruses at Ashoka University of India, told AP.
Dozens of towns and villages have imposed partial restrictions and nighttime curfews in an attempt to reduce infections, but the federal government has so far ruled out the possibility of another nationwide lockdown.
The fact that the country’s vaccination campaign could also cause problems only compounds concerns about the increase in cases. Several Indian states have reported a shortage of doses even as the federal government insisted there was enough in stock.
Modi has rejected calls from states to offer vaccines to younger people. But experts say the current limit on vaccine supply to over 45s should be relaxed and vaccines should be targeted in areas with peaks.
“The burden of COVID-19 is felt unevenly,” Udayakumar said. “And the response must be tailored to local needs.”
India now faces the mammoth challenge of vaccinating millions of people, while also tracing the contacts of tens of thousands of infected people every day and preventing the health system from collapsing.
Russian vaccine approved
The country approved the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on Monday, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said.
“India, the second most populous nation in the world, has become the 60th country to register #SputnikV following positive results from a local Phase 3 clinical study. Sputnik V is now licensed in 60 countries with a population of over 3 billion inhabitants ”, indicates a message on the official Twitter account of Sputnik V.
After a slow start, India recently overtook the United States in the number of hits it delivers each day and now averages 3.6 million. But with more than four times the number of people, it delivered at least one dose to only around 7% of its population.
The Indian state of Maharashtra in western India, home to Pune and the financial capital Mumbai, has recorded nearly half of the country’s new infections in the past week. Some state vaccination centers have turned away people due to shortages.
At least half a dozen Indian states report equally low stocks, but Health Minister Harsh Vardhan called the concerns “deplorable attempts by some state governments to distract from their failures.” .
Concerns over vaccine supplies have led to criticism from Modi’s government, which exported 64.5 million doses to other countries.
Rahul Gandhi, the face of the main opposition party in Congress, asked Modi in a letter if the government’s export strategy was “an effort to gain publicity at the expense of our own citizens.”
India must vaccinate faster and increase measures to stop the spread of the virus, Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University, told AP.
“The coming months in India are extremely dangerous,” he said.