Gandhi warns of an “explosive” wave of COVID threatening India and the world

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© Reuters. People receive free oxygen assistance at a Gurudwara (Sikh temple) amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ghaziabad, India on May 6, 2021. REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui

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By Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Anuron Kumar Mitra

BENGALURU (Reuters) – India’s largest opposition leader Rahul Gandhi warned on Friday that the deadly second wave of COVID-19 that hit the country would not devastate India and threaten the rest of the world.

In a letter, Gandhi pleaded with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a nationwide vaccination program, and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.

Gandhi said the world’s second most populous nation has a responsibility in a “globalized and connected world” to stop the “explosive” growth of COVID-19 within its borders.

“India is home to one in six people on the planet. The pandemic has shown that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate and transform into a more contagious and dangerous form,” wrote Gandhi.

“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only to our people, but also to the rest of the world.”

India’s highly contagious COVID-19 variant B.1.617 has already spread to other countries, and many nations have sought to cut or restrict movements from India.

British Prime Minister Boris said Friday the government must be very careful with the emergence of new strains of coronavirus in India that have since started spreading in the UK.

Meanwhile, tons of medical equipment from abroad have arrived in hospitals in Delhi, which could ease the pressure on an overloaded system.

VACCINATION PRICES

Last week, India reported an additional 1.5 million new infections and recorded the daily death toll. Since the pandemic began, 21.49 million cases and 234,083 deaths have been reported. There are currently 3.6 million active cases.

Modi has been widely criticized for failing to act earlier to suppress the second wave after religious festivals and political rallies attracted tens of thousands of people over the past few weeks and became “super-spreader” events.

His government, which imposed a strict lockdown in March 2020, has also been criticized for lifting social restrictions too soon after the first wave and delaying the country’s vaccination program.

The government was reluctant to impose a second lockdown fearing the damage to the economy, although many states have announced their own restrictions.

Goa, a west coast tourism hotspot that has up to one in two people who tested positive for coronavirus in the past few weeks, announced strict restrictions on Sunday from Sunday that cut grocery store hours, unnecessary travel prohibited and asked citizens to cancel all meetings.

While India is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, it is also struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to contain the wave of COVID-19.

Although the country has given at least 157 million doses of vaccine, its vaccination rate has plummeted in recent days. Https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/INDIA/jbyprwkawve/chart.png.

India vaccinated 2.3 million people Thursday, most this month but still well below what it takes to contain the spread of the virus.

RECORD INFECTIONS

India reported another record daily surge in coronavirus cases (414,188) on Friday, bringing the total new cases to 1.57 million that week. Deaths from COVID-19 rose 3,915 to 234,083.

Medical experts say the actual extent of COVID-19 is likely well above the official figure.

The Indian health system is crumbling under the weight of patients as hospitals run out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums cannot handle the number of dead and makeshift pyrenees burning in parks and parking garages.

Infections are now spreading from crowded cities to remote rural villages, home to nearly 70% of its 1.3 billion residents.

Although the northern and western areas of India bear the brunt of the disease, the south now appears to be turning into the new epicenter.

In the southern city of Chennai, only one in one hundred oxygen-assisted beds and two in one hundred intensive care units (ICUs) were vacant on Thursday, after vacancies of more than 20% every two weeks shown prior to government data.

In the Indian technology capital Bengaluru, also in the south, only 23 of the 590 beds in intensive care units were empty.

The test positivity rate – the percentage of people tested who were found to have the disease – in the city of 12.5 million tripled to nearly 39% on Wednesday, down from about 13% two weeks ago.

Syed Tousif Masood, a volunteer on a COVID-19 resource group in Bengaluru called Project Smile Trust, said the group’s hotline received an average of 5,000 requests per day for hospital beds and oxygen, compared to 50-100 such calls a month ago.

“The experts say we haven’t peaked yet,” he said. “If this isn’t the summit, I don’t know what will happen at the real summit.”

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