India's Covid-19 case tally passes 25 million

Cyclone complicates pandemic relief efforts in PM Narendra Modi’s state of Gujarat

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India’s total coronavirus caseload surged past 25 million on Tuesday as a cyclone complicated the health crisis.

Covid-19 tests were administered to 200,000 people who fled coastal districts of the western state of Gujarat.

Efforts were being made to limit the spread of infection in the state, one of those in which the disease is spreading most rapidly.

“Masks have been arranged for people shifted to shelter homes,” said Sandip Sagale, an official in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city.

“Efforts are also made to maintain social distancing.”

India reported 263,533 new infections over the past 24 hours, while deaths from Covid-19 rose by a record 4,329.

India’s total caseload since the virus arrived over a year ago stands at 25.4 million, while the death toll is 282,547, according to health ministry data.

Only the United States has had more cases, or a worse single day death toll, when it lost 5,444 people on February 12. But whereas America’s epidemic peaked months ago, there is no certainty that India’s outbreak has.

Though the official count shows infections subsiding, there are fears that the highly infectious B.1.617 variant, first found in India, is out of control. It is thought many cases, are unreported owing to the lack of testing,  particularly in rural areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat reported a 30 per cent rise in infections since May 2, while the total number of vaccinations administered in the state last week was 1.1 million, half that of a month earlier.

The storm complicated efforts to tackle the coronavirus in the state when vaccinations were suspended for two days, and hospitals awaited back-up generators and oxygen supplies.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said oxygen manufacturing and distribution was not disrupted. Of the more than 1,400 hospitals designated for treating Covid-19, power failures were reported in 16 and restored in 12, while the remaining four moved to back-up generators.

In neighbouring Maharashtra, which was sideswiped by the cyclone on Monday, 1,000 coronavirus deaths were reported overnight – the worst toll nationwide. The infection rate in the state soared 15 per cent in the past two weeks, government data showed.

The pace of vaccination in Maharashtra has fallen 30 per cent since peaking in early April, according to government data.

Since April 1,269 doctors have died of Covid-19, 78 of them in the mostly rural state of Bihar, according to data released by the Indian Medical Association.

“The surge has been very devastating,” Jayesh Lele, secretary general of the IMA, told Reuters.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to more people than Brazil, rural areas have been severely hit and healthcare systems have struggled to cope.

Incensed by scarce testing and tracing, a court spoke of “God’s mercy” on Monday and said the state was hurtling towards a “third wave”.

“If this is the state of affairs of five districts, one can guess where we are leading the people of this state to,” the Allahabad High Court said.

Chandrakant Lahariya, a public policy and health systems expert, wrote in the Hindustan Times newspaper that India's vaccine policy urgently needed a reset.

“For six weeks now, India’s vaccination drive has been struggling. How long must one wait before acknowledging that what was planned is not working?

“Part of the problem seems to be the fact that there is political decision-making in the areas that are purely technical. The political leadership should give a free hand to technical experts to decide and implement new strategies.”

US President Joe Biden said on Monday that his administration would send at least 20 million more Covid-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.

Mr Biden has been under pressure to share vaccines to help contain worsening epidemics from India to Brazil, where new, more contagious coronavirus variants have become rampant.