The Guardian Australia
India steps up vaccine effort as Covid cases hit record high
New Covid-19 cases in India surged to a record 152,879 as the country battled a second wave of infections by pushing for faster vaccinations, with some states considering tougher restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.
India leads the world in the daily average number of new infections reported, accounting for one in every six infections reported globally each day.
Daily cases have set record highs six times this week, according to data from the federal health ministry.
The number of deaths has also soared, with the federal health ministry reporting 839 fatalities on Sunday – the highest in over five months – as hospitals and crematoriums in some parts of the country struggled to cope with the worsening situation.
India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only Brazil and the US.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, launched a four-day “vaccination festival” on Sunday to encourage a greater number of eligible Indians to get a Covid-19 shot.
“During this time we have to move towards optimum utilization of the country’s vaccination capacity,” Modi said in an open letter.
The country has administered more than 100 m doses since the middle of January, the most after the US and China. But several Indian states have complained of a vaccine shortage, despite immunisation being restricted to only about 400 million of India’s 1.35 billion people.
The second surge in infections, which has spread much more rapidly than the first one that peaked in September, has forced many states to impose fresh curbs on activity.
The administration in western Maharashtra state, which is home to India’s financial capital, Mumbai, and has the highest number of cases in the country, said it may impose additional measures beyond a weekend lockdown that will end early on Monday.
“To break the Covid transmission chain, it is imperative that strict restrictions must be imposed for a certain period of time,” Maharashtra’s chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray, said late on Saturday.
Authorities have blamed the resurgence of the virus mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks, even as massive election rallies and large religious gatherings have continued in recent weeks.
Thousands of people thronged the banks of the holy Ganges River in the northern city of Haridwar on Sunday for morning prayers during the Kumbh Mela – where up to five million worshippers are expected on certain days.
Authorities have made it mandatory for all people entering the area to do Covid-19 tests. But many devotees on Sunday gathered by the riverside without masks, standing in densely packed crowds.