India logs record jump in virus infections as Biden hails US vaccine drive

New Delhi (AFP) –


India on Thursday posted a global record for the number of coronavirus cases in a day, as US President Joe Biden hailed his government's "stunning" vaccination drive.

Despite vaccine rollouts in many countries, Covid-19 surges are putting immense pressure on authorities from Germany to Uruguay, with no end in sight for a pandemic that has claimed more than three million lives worldwide.

The underfunded healthcare system of India, home to 1.3 billion people, was being stretched to the limit by a ferocious new wave of infections, with desperate warnings of shortages of oxygen, medicines and hospital beds.

"I'm feeling really helpless," said Jasvinder Pal Singh, a pharmacy owner in the capital New Delhi.

"People are crying, they ask me for medication, and I'm saying 'no, no and no'."

India's health ministry data on Thursday showed 314,835 new infections in the past 24 hours -- the most of any country since the pandemic began -- as hospitals sent out desperate warnings that patients could die without fresh oxygen supplies.

The current wave has been blamed on a new variant and super-spreader events including the Kumbh Mela, one of the world's biggest religious gatherings, as well as large political rallies.

The dire shortages have also meant boom time for profit gougers, with medications and oxygen being sold at many times their usual prices.

"My friend is desperate... we have been trying all the government helplines but none of them are responding (and) most of the oxygen suppliers have switched off their phones," said Zain Zaidi, sales manager at a hotel in the northern city of Lucknow.

"I just managed to find one supplier but he is charging 20,000 rupees ($265). I have to buy it at any cost."

- 'Stunning' US progress -

There was good news from the United States, where President Joe Biden hailed his government's achievement of administering 200 million vaccine doses ahead of schedule.

"Today we did it, today we hit 200 million shots," he said in a speech on Wednesday, describing it as "an incredible achievement for the nation".

"The progress we've made has been stunning."

Biden said the United States -- which has the highest Covid-19 death toll and biggest known caseload in the world -- was still on track to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday in relative normality.

But he warned that rising infection rates in parts of the country showed that it was too early to declare victory.

"If we let up now and stop being vigilant, this virus will erase the progress," he said.

Spurred by the successful vaccination campaign, New York City announced its largest-ever drive to promote tourism, hoping to entice visitors and revive its ravaged economy.

But there was a worrying report from south of the border in Mexico, where some 80 people reportedly received bogus doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Pfizer on Wednesday confirmed that suspect doses seized in Mexico and Poland were fake, with US media reporting that people were being charged as much as $1,000 a shot.

The liquid in the confiscated vials in Poland was a cosmetic substance, thought to be anti-wrinkle cream, the company said.

- 'Until the dead are your dead' -

Despite the clear threat of a virus resurgence, people in many parts of the world are growing increasingly frustrated with Covid-19 restrictions.

There were clashes with police as thousands of anti-lockdown protesters gathered in Berlin on Wednesday while the German parliament passed an amendment to give the government power to impose tougher anti-coronavirus measures.

But the fatigue from restrictions is nothing compared with the cost of an uncontrolled outbreak, warned intensive care workers in Uruguay, which has gone from a shining example of pandemic control to a nation in crisis.

"Unfortunately, people do not seem to comprehend," said Carla Romero, a nursing assistant at an intensive care unit in the capital Montevideo.

"That's how it is. Until the dead are your dead... until it happens in your family, it is hard for people to comprehend."