Tag: India COVID
By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 28 April 2021: Prayers from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh faiths were held today evening at the Federation Square, in solidarity with the devastating COVID-hit India, seeing a massive surge in COVID cases and deaths. The glittering Fed Square with a cold breeze saw the somber Australian-Indians holding Australian and the Indian tricolor flag. They held banners “Australia Stands with India.
Speakers expressed solidarity with India and some described how many of their own have fallen victim to the deadly virus. The prayers from different religions reflected the secular and democratic ethos of the Indian people.
India’s Consul General, Melbourne Mr. Raj Kumar was among the attendees along with leaders of different faiths and organizations holding LED candles.
India recorded the world’s highest-ever daily tally of 314,835 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday (22 April 2021).
The South Asian nation’s total cases are now at 15.93 million, while deaths rose by 2,104 over the past 24 hours to reach 184,657, according to the latest Health Ministry data.
The massive surge in infection numbers has put an enormous strain on India’s health system, producing heart-breaking images of people desperately searching for hospital beds and oxygen tanks to save virus-infected relatives.
Shortages of medical oxygen, beds, and anti-viral drugs in several parts of the country, coupled with an increasing number of sick people, continue to overwhelm hospitals.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court likened the situation to a “national emergency” and directed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to prepare a national plan on oxygen supply, essential drugs, and vaccinations.
In an interview with DW, health expert Gautam Menon talks about the reasons behind India’s skyrocketing infections and what needs to be done to bring the situation back under control.
DW: What has contributed to this massive surge in coronavirus cases in India?
Gautam Menon: There are many factors. Negligence on the part of people and officials has led to everyone letting their guard down, possible reinfections because of a loss of antibodies and new virus variants have all contributed to the surge.
The “double mutant” variant, known as B.1.617, first detected in India’s Maharashtra state, is currently the predominant one in the country and it’s lethal and more infectious. There are also other variants like those first found in the UK and in Brazil that are spreading faster in the country.
Genome sequencing indicates that infections caused by the double mutant variant are on the rise across the country.
But unless we know to what extent the increase in infections can be attributed to the new variant, we will not be able to determine conclusively whether laxity in following COVID-appropriate behavior drove the surge or whether the greater virulence of the new variant is responsible.
Why is the double mutant variant more infectious and lethal?
It has two critical mutations that could lead to an improvement in the ability of the virus to bind with human cells. This makes it more effective.
The B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV-2 carries two mutations, E484Q and L452R. Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but they have been reported together for the first time in India.
What is more worrying is that this variant is showing the ability to escape the human immune system and evade antibodies created by a prior infection or by vaccination.
What needs to be done now to bring the situation in India under control?
Most hospitals across the country now have dangerously low levels of oxygen supplies. It is important that private players and industry join forces with the government to increase capacity.
Moving forward, I think state governments should act appropriately and adapt their measures to the evolving situation.
It is important to restrict gatherings in public places like shopping malls and cinema halls, among others. A nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the virus will be an extreme step and it will be economically disastrous.
Could we have prevented the current worrying situation in India?
We came to know about the new variant circulating in India in February, from reports coming out of Maharashtra. Now it has spread to many states and countries. Had we acted with more alacrity when it was first detected, we might have been able to lessen the impact.
When do you see the situation improving?
It might be difficult to predict. But given that the second wave has yet to reach its peak, I don’t see the situation improving anytime before mid-May, or maybe even before the end of May.
Any improvement in the situation will also be contingent on people adhering to COVID-related restrictions and receiving vaccinations. We need to vaccinate 10 million a day if we are to achieve our target of vaccinating 300 million people by August.
How far can vaccination help given that this new double mutant variant seems to show “immune escape” behavior?
I think more studies needs to be done in this regard. I am not sure if the variant seriously impacts vaccine-derived immunity. It may not.
Dr Gautam Menon is a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana.
The interview was conducted by Murali Krishnan in New Delhi. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
By Rajiv Dasgupta*
India is in the grip of a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections, surpassing even the United States and Brazil in terms of new daily infections. The current spike came after a brief lull: daily new cases had fallen from 97,000 new cases per day in September 2020 to around 10,000 per day in January 2021. However, from the end of February, daily new cases began to rise sharply again, passing 100,000 a day, and now crossing the 200,000 mark.
Night curfews and weekend lockdowns have been reinstated in some states, such as Maharasthra (including the financial capital Mumbai). Health services and crematoriums are being overwhelmed, COVID test kits are in short supply, and wait times for results are increasing.
How has the pandemic been spreading?
Residents in slum areas and those without their own household toilets have been worst affected, implying poor sanitation and close living have contributed to the spread.
One word that has dominated discussions about why cases have increased again is laaparavaahee (in Hindi), or “negligence”. The negligence is made out to be the fault of individuals not wearing masks and social distancing, but that is only part of the story.
Negligence can be seen in the near-complete lack of regulation and its implementation wherever regulations did exist across workplaces and other public spaces. Religious, social and political congregations contributed directly through super-spreader events, but this still doesn’t explain the huge rise in cases.
The second wave in India also coincides with the spread of the UK variant. A recent report found 81% of the latest 401 samples sent by the state of Punjab for genome sequencing were found to be the UK variant.
Studies have found this variant might be more capable of evading our immune systems, meaning there’s a greater chance previously infected people could be reinfected and immunised people could be infected.
A new double mutation is also circulating in India, and this too could be contributing to the rise in cases.
Low fatality rate?
In the first phase of the pandemic, India was lauded for its low COVID death rate (case fatality rate) of about 1.5%. However, The Lancet cautioned about the “dangers of false optimism” in its September 26 editorial on the Indian situation.
In a pandemic situation, the public health approach is usually to attribute a death with complex causes as being caused by the disease in question. In April 2020, the World Health Organization clarified how COVID deaths should be counted:
A death due to COVID-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease (e.g. trauma)
What are the challenges this time?
A majority of the cases and deaths (81%) are being reported from ten (of 28) states, including Punjab and Maharashtra. Five states (Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala) account for more than 70% of active cases. But the infection seems to have moved out of bigger cities to smaller towns and suburbs with less health infrastructure.
Last year, the government’s pandemic control strategy included government staff from all departments (including non-health departments) contributing to COVID control activities, but these workers have now been moved back to their departments. This is likely to have an effect on testing, tracing and treating COVID cases. And health-care workers now have a vaccine rollout to contend with, as well as caring for the sick.
In early March the government declared we were in the endgame of the pandemic in India. But their optimism was clearly premature.
Despite an impressive 100 million-plus immunisations, barely 1% of the country’s population is currently protected with two doses of the vaccine. The India Task Force is worried that monthly vaccine supplies at the current capacity of 70 million to 80 million doses per month would “fall short by half” for the target of 150 million doses per month.
Strict, widespread lockdowns we have seen elsewhere in the world are not appropriate for all parts of India given their effect on the working poor. Until wider vaccination coverage is achieved, local containment measures will have to be strengthened. This includes strict perimeter control to ensure there is no movement of people in or out of zones with local outbreaks, intensive house-to-house surveillance to ensure compliance with stay-at-home orders where they are in place, contact tracing, and widespread testing.
It should go without saying large congregations such as political rallies and religious festivals should not be taking place, and yet they have been.
Strong leadership and decentralised strategies with a focus on local restrictions is what we need until we can get more vaccines into people’s arms.
* Chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Source- The Conversation, April 16, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)
By Aditya Sharma, New Delhi, 16.02.2021
India’s government has been supplying countries around the world with free coronavirus vaccine doses. However, there is some worry that this “vaccine diplomacy” will come at a cost to vulnerable Indians.
On Monday (15 Feb. 2021), the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use in its COVAX vaccination program, which aims to provide poorer countries around the world with “equitable access” to COVID-19 vaccines.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, has agreed to produce 1.1 billion doses for delivery.
And India is leveraging its manufacturing capabilities to launch its own initiative aimed at bolstering its global image as the “pharmacy of the world.”
India has already started distributing millions of its domestically produced coronavirus vaccines for free to some of its neighbors and several countries around the world.
The “vaccine maitri” (Hindi for vaccine friendship) initiative was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi days after India began its nationwide vaccination campaign in January.
“India is deeply honored to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community,” Modi said last month. “Supplies of COVID vaccines to several countries will commence [on January 20], and more will follow in the days ahead.”
Former Indian diplomat KC Singh has tweeted several times that the country was indulging in “vaccine diplomacy,” amid initial concerns that the number of doses exported was more than those administered domestically.
— K. C. Singh (@ambkcsingh) February 15, 2021
However, Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, said that New Delhi was making a smart move by using it’s vaccine production to improve international relations.
“Delhi is showing both the political will and the diplomatic sensibility to use the cards it has,” Mohan told DW.
“You cannot consume all the vaccines you produce yourself in a short time. They have a shelf life,” he added.
“India is rolling out a national program, and they can take a bit of that to other countries,” he said adding that India’s large production capacity makes the initiative possible.
“Over the last four decades, India has become a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, generic drugs, and vaccines. Biotechnology research has also grown in India, which has given it more capabilities to be able to undertake such an initiative,” he said.
What are India’s benefits?
Closer to home, India’s vaccine outreach could play a role in repairing strained ties with its immediate neighbors such as Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
India-Nepal relations plummeted last summer after a diplomatic spat over a border dispute.
Both countries have made competing territorial claims over a stretch of disputed land that lies at a strategic three-way junction with China.
India’s relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been similarly frayed, and China has been a factor, with varying degrees, in these two cases.
But as neighboring countries line up to receive vaccines from India despite their outstanding issues, foreign policy analysts believe it indicates the pragmatism that governs the bilateral interactions.
“Generally, all of the neighbors have their problems with India,” said Mohan, adding that New Delhi has something these countries need, and can take advantage of demand.
“It shows a new political will in New Delhi that whatever capabilities you have, they can be deployed smartly for diplomatic purposes.”
“This is something that has changed in the foreign office under the current leadership,” Mohan said. “When there’s an opportunity to do something good, you build some trust.”
Pakistan not interested
Pakistan, unsurprisingly, is not among the countries receiving COVID vaccine shipments from India.
In a press briefing, the Indian Foreign Ministry said that they had not received any requests from Pakistan seeking vaccine supplies.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office and Health Ministry did not respond to DW’s requests for comment.
The country started its vaccine campaign on February 3 after receiving half a million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by its longtime ally China.
“It’s not that India excluded Pakistan. They don’t want to take vaccines from India,” Mohan said. “So many things have happened between the two countries that no Pakistani leader will ask India for help, even in the best of times,” he added.
Alternative to Chinese vaccines
India’s global vaccine distribution also seeks to offer the developing world an alternative to Chinese vaccines, which Beijing has been pushing in countries that cannot afford multibillion-dollar deals with pharmaceutical giants, or as an alternative in countries experiencing supply bottlenecks.
Over the past couple of decades, China has made significant inroads in smaller South Asian countries, which India views as part of its sphere of influence. Beijing has outspent New Delhi in trade, investment, and infrastructure.
Vaccine production is one of the areas where India could still flex its muscles.
But the goodwill generated through this initiative is unlikely to make India’s neighbors more agreeable toward its interests.
“All this doesn’t mean that overnight everybody is going to love India.” Mohan said.