Covid-19 in India

India eclipses Brazil in Covid infections, approves Russian vaccine

A doctor walks out of a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Mumbai. India's financial capital is in the middle of a coronavirus surge
A doctor walks out of a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Mumbai. India's financial capital is in the middle of a coronavirus surge INDRANIL MUKHERJEE AFP

India’s Covid-19 cases surpassed Brazil’s tally on Monday making it the second worst-hit country in the world behind the United States, an increase blamed on the presence of mutant strains of the virus. While hospitals struggle to increase bed capacity, authorities announced their approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

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The second coronavirus wave is wreaking havoc with India reporting record 168,912 infections on Monday with a total case tally of over 13.5 million cases, according to health ministry data.

The death toll has risen to 170,000 and as many as 104.5 million people have been administered the Covid-19 vaccine.

India has recorded more than 873,000 cases in the last week - an increase of 70 percent compared to the previous week. It is now only behind the United States which has reported more than 31 million cases. With 13.4 million cases, Brazil is now at number three.

Experts believe the presence of a mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is more infectious than the original strain, may have aided the spread in various parts of the country which is witnessing an unprecedented surge.

“During the earlier peak, one infected patient could spread the disease to 30 to 40% of his or her contacts. Now, it has been observed that 80-90% of people who come in contact with a patient turn positive,” said Randeep Guleria director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Increased resistance to antibodies

The big worry is that the double mutation could allow the virus to escape the body's immune system, making itself more resistant to antibodies.

There is also a possibility that it can reinfect patients who have already recovered from Covid-19, experts add. In some cases, the virus might also be able to defend itself against the vaccines currently in use.

"What we are seeing is a spike in coronavirus cases, which shows that the virus variants are contributing to an increased transmission," Lalit Kant, the former head of the epidemiology and communicable diseases department at the Indian Council of Medical Research, told media.

Apart from the mutant virus, super spreader events like the ongoing assembly elections in five states with political rallies attracting huge, often maskless, crowds have added to the surge.

Kumbh Mela religious festival, Haridwar, India, March 2021
Kumbh Mela religious festival, Haridwar, India, March 2021 © RFI/Murali Krishnan

Besides, over 3 million mostly maskless pilgrims are estimated to gather on the banks of the Ganges River in the northern state of Uttarakhand this week as part of the month-long Hindu religious festival, the Kumbh Mela.

The surge in infections has been led by Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, as businesses reopened and millions used crowded public transport again. State authorities are now mulling a lockdown later this week.

Shortage of vaccines

“There is complacency on the part of everybody, including the authorities, the pathogen has come back with force. Critical care wards which were closed are now opening up again in cities," Arvind Kumar, a lung specialist told RFI.

Several badly hit states have announced fresh restrictions such as curbs on movement, night curfews and public gatherings in some cities and towns.

With India reeling under a second wave of novel coronavirus cases and vaccine shortage, the expert panel of country's drug regulator on Monday approved the use of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

Sputnik V, backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), already has production agreements in India to produce 852 million doses.

RDIF chief executive Kirill Dmitriev said in a statement that the approval was a "major milestone" after "extensive cooperation" on clinical trials of the shot in India, adding the first doses could be ready by late April, or May with ramped up production by June.

With an acute shortage of vaccine doses in many states, there have been calls to stop the export of the Covishield vaccine manufactured by Pune’s Serum Institute of India and Covaxin, made by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International.

 

India's vaccine diplomacy is being called into question by political parties and officials in the foreign office told RFI it has been decided to stop the direct grant of Covid-19 vaccines to other countries following a growing number of concerns the country is sending more inoculations abroad than what is being administered at home.

On April 1, the nationwide vaccination drive entered the third phase, in which people over 45 can get the vaccine. India hopes to vaccinate 300 million people by August.

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