India recorded 368,147 new coronavirus cases on Monday, including 3,417 deaths, as a catastrophic surge ripples through the country.
The latest numbers came after leaders of 13 opposition parties penned a letter to urge the government to launch a free vaccination drive as well as ensure uninterrupted flow of oxygen to all hospitals. Several hospital authorities over the weekend sought court intervention over oxygen supplies in New Delhi, where a lockdown has been extended by a week to contain the wave of infections.
“Water has gone above the head. Enough is enough,” said New Delhi High Court, adding it would start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals were not delivered.
The White House said travel from India will be restricted starting May 4, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been severely criticized over the handling of the surge, which has pushed India’s already fragile and underfunded health system to the brink. Massive election rallies organized by the Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties as well as a giant Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges may have exacerbated the spread, experts said, adding that new variants could also be increasing cases.
Modi’s party on Sunday suffered a resounding election defeat in a key state, West Bengal, failing to dislodge its firebrand chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. The BJP retained power in northeastern Assam state but lost in two southern states.
While the four states were already stiff election challenges for the BJP apart from the pandemic, analysts say the results weaken Modi’s position as surging infections cripple the already fragile health system.
India has confirmed 19.9 million cases of infection since the start of the pandemic, behind only the U.S., which counts more than 32.4 million. More than 218,000 people in India have died from COVID-19, according to the health ministry. Both figures are thought to be vast undercounts.
India opened its vaccination campaign to people ages 18-44 on Saturday, a mammoth task being undermined by limited supplies. India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, but even the ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is stuttering. Since January, 10% of Indians have received one dose, but only around 1.5% have received both required doses.
“There aren’t enough vaccines to go around.” India is now seeing extremely high coronavirus case counts as other countries move closer to vaccinating a large swath of their populations. One key difference? Countries like the U.S. purchased doses ahead of production, speeding up the process. Former FDA associate commissioner Peter Pitts explains.