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COVID-19

India suspends IPL as COVID cases cross 20 million

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

India suspended its most popular sports tournament on Tuesday and the country’s opposition chief called for a nationwide lockdown as the number of coronavirus infections climbed past 20 million, a dismal milestone crossed only by the United States.

Cricket officials suspended the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL), after the country added 10 million cases in just over four months, versus the more than 10 months taken for the first 10 million, Reuters reported.

“These are difficult times, especially in India, and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the IPL said in a statement.

With 3.45 million active cases, India recorded 357,229 new infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose 3,449 for a toll of 222,408, health ministry data showed.

Experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher, however.

“The only way to stop the spread of corona now is a full lockdown…GOI’s inaction is killing many innocent people,” Gandhi, a Congress member of parliament, said on Twitter, referring to the government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown for fear of the economic fallout, but several states have imposed social curbs, Reuters reported.

The impoverished eastern state of Bihar ordered a lockdown until May 15 to curb the virus, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said on Twitter. With more than 100,000 infections, its death toll is nearing 3,000, government figures show.

The cricket-obsessed nation’s halt to the IPL tournament was a result of the virus crisis, its chairman, Brijesh Patel, told Reuters. The tournament, with an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion, was being played without spectators to a huge television audience this year but has been severely criticized for continuing at a time when the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of a collapse.

The surge of the highly infectious Indian variant has swamped the health system and depleted supplies of life-saving oxygen, while sufferers have died in ambulances and car parks outside hospitals.

Rows of funeral pyres set up in parks and other open spaces are being used to cremate the overflow of corpses.

Modi has been criticized for not moving sooner to limit the latest wave of infections and for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies during March and April.

But a glimmer of hope surfaced in comments on Monday by a health ministry official who said infections in some regions were plateauing, Reuters reported.

Government modelling points to a peak by Wednesday, a few days earlier than a previous estimate, since the virus has spread faster than expected.

India’s surge has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations, hit by problems with supplies and delivery.

At least three states, including Maharashtra, the richest and home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, reported scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some vaccination centres.

On Monday the state had injected 79,491 doses, down from a record 534,372 a week ago.

In Modi’s adjoining home state of Gujarat, the three largest cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara limited vaccines to those aged between 18 and 44, officials said.

COVID-19

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near 4,000 as WHO flags concern

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2021)

India reported a smaller rise in daily coronavirus infections on Saturday, but deaths stayed near the 4,000 mark, with the World Health Organisation warning that the second year of the pandemic could be worse than the first.

Reuters reported that over the past 24 hours, India had 326,098 new coronavirus infections for its lowest rise in nearly three weeks, taking the tally to 24.37 million, along with 3,890 deaths.

But the slow growth may reflect lower test rates, which are at their lowest since May 9.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s chief said the second year of the pandemic was set to be more deadly than the first, with India a huge concern, Reuters reported.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s remarks to an online meeting on Friday came after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the disease through the vast countryside.

During the past week, the south Asian nation has added about 1.7 million new cases and more than 20,000 deaths. Its death toll stands at 266,207, health ministry data shows.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his country would accelerate its vaccination programme, to try to contain a fast-spreading Indian variant that could knock off-track the re-opening of Britain’s economy, Reuters reported.

Johnson’s comments came soon after India accepted a government panel’s recommendation for a longer gap of 12 to 16 weeks between the first and second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, from six to eight weeks now.

Cases have fallen steadily in states hit by an initial surge in infections, such as the richest state of Maharashtra and the northern state of Delhi, after they imposed stringent lockdowns.

But the eastern state of West Bengal, which held elections recently, experienced its biggest single-day spike, suggesting a fall in the overall caseload may take a while.

Infections in Modi’s western home state of Gujarat fell below 10,000 after four straight weeks but officials warned against any relaxation in curbs until they return to levels seen before the breakout of India’s second wave in mid-February, Reuters reported.

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WHO urges rich countries to donate shots instead of vaccinating children

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(Last Updated On: May 14, 2021)

The World Health Organization urged rich countries on Friday to reconsider plans to vaccinate children and instead donate COVID-19 shots to the COVAX scheme that shares them with poorer nations.

The WHO is hoping more countries will follow France and Sweden in donating shots to COVAX after inoculating their priority populations to help address a gulf in vaccination rates.

Canada and the United States are among countries that have authorised vaccines for use in adolescents in recent weeks. However, a WHO official said talks with Washington on sharing doses were under way.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to #COVAX,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual meeting in Geneva.

COVAX, which has delivered around 60 million doses so far, has struggled to meet supply targets partly because of Indian export restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine due to its growing epidemic.

So far, around 1.26 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered globally.

Tedros also said the second year of the pandemic was set to be more deadly than the first, with India a huge concern.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the coronavirus through India’s vast countryside on Friday, as the country’s official tally of infections crossed 24 million and over 4,000 people died for the third straight day.

More than 160.71 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and nearly 3.5 million have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

WHO officials urged caution in lifting measures that contain transmission, such as mask wearing, and warned that more variants were bound to be detected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks outdoors and could avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

“Very few countries are at the point where they can drop these measures,” said Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan.

 
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More than 4,000 Indians die of COVID-19 for second straight day

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(Last Updated On: May 13, 2021)

India recorded more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths for a second straight day on Thursday, while infections stayed below 400,000 for a fourth day, though the virus has become rampant in rural areas where cases can go unreported due to a lack of testing, Reuters reported.

Experts remain unsure when numbers will peak and concern is growing about the transmissibility of the variant that is driving infections in India and spreading worldwide.

Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said most models had predicted a peak this week and that the country could be seeing signs of that trend, Reuters reported.

Still, the number of new cases each day is large enough to overwhelm hospitals, she said on Twitter. “The key word is cautious optimism.”

The situation is particularly bad in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with a population of over 230 million. Television pictures have shown families weeping over the dead in rural hospitals or camping in wards to tend the sick.

Bodies have washed up in the Ganges, the river that flows through the state, as crematoriums are overwhelmed and wood for funeral pyres is in short supply.

“Official statistics give you no idea of the devastating pandemic that is raging through rural UP,” wrote well-known activist and opposition politician Yogendra Yadav in The Print.

“Widespread ignorance, lack of nearby or adequate testing facilities, official and unofficial cap on testing and inordinate delays in test reports have meant that in village after village, virtually no one has been tested, while scores of people complain of a ‘strange fever’”.

According to health ministry data, India had 362,727 new COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours while deaths climbed by 4,120.

The surge in infections has been accompanied by a slowdown in vaccinations, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that vaccinations would be open to all adults from May 1, Reuters reported.

Two states – Karnataka, which includes tech hub Bengaluru, and Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai – have announced they will temporarily suspend vaccination for people aged 18-44 years as they prioritize those over 45 who need their second dose.

India is the world’s largest vaccine producer, but has run low on stocks in the face of the huge demand. As of Thursday, it had fully vaccinated just over 38.2 million people, or about 2.8% of a population of about 1.35 billion, government data shows.

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