A worker carries wood on a hand cart as multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims burn at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi [Ishant Chauhan/AP Photo]
A worker carries wood on a hand cart as multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims burn at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi [Ishant Chauhan/AP Photo]

Indian industry body urges curbs to economic activity to save lives

A leading Indian industry body urged authorities to take the "strongest national steps" and to curtail economic activity to save lives on Sunday (May 2) as the country battles surging coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed the healthcare system.

The rate of new infections dipped marginally but deaths kept climbing. Authorities reported 392,488 new cases in the previous 24 hours, pushing total cases to 19.56 million. Deaths jumped by a record 3,689, taking the overall toll to 215,542, according to Channel News Asia.

Hospitals have filled to capacity, medical oxygen supplies have run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped as the country deals with the surge in cases: more than 300,000 daily cases for more than 10 days straight.

Concerned about the economic impact of shutting down the economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown. At least 11 states and union territories have imposed some form of restrictions.

The Indian Express newspaper reported on Sunday that the country's COVID-19 taskforce has advised the federal government to impose a national lockdown.

The eastern state of Odisha and northern industrial state Haryana became the latest to announce new lockdowns on Sunday, joining Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal.

Other states, including Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan have either imposed night curfews or weekend lockdowns.

Modi said last month all efforts should be made be avoid a lockdown. He imposed strict curbs on movement and social and economic activity last year in the early months of the pandemic and economic output fell a record 24 per cent in April-June 2020 compared with the same period a year earlier.

The current devastating second wave has also led to a shortfall in medical staff. Kotak also said healthcare workers may not be able to tackle the influx of patients, given the escalating caseloads, and they need reinforcing.

International aid has been pouring in.

India hits new grim record with 3,689 COVID-19 deaths in one day

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

India recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic yet with 3,689 deaths in the last 24 hours and one more state going into lockdown as the nation’s creaky healthcare system is unable to cope with the massive caseload.

Sunday was the fourth straight day India recorded more than 3,000 deaths as the second wave of the pandemic carries on unabated and keeps setting grim new records. Altogether 215,542 people have died from COVID-19 in the country, according to Al Jazeera.

The number of cases surged to 19.5 million with 392,488 new infections, government data showed. India became the first country to cross 400,000 daily cases on Saturday.

Healthcare systems are overwhelmed and a shortage of medical oxygen has emerged as the most serious challenge.

Thirty-four patients died because of oxygen shortages in hospitals in the capital New Delhi and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Haryana on Saturday, the Times of India reported.

Thirty-one more with COVID-19-like symptoms and “breathing difficulties” died in a hospital in Uttar Pradesh state, the report cited authorities as saying.

Meanwhile, a court in New Delhi said it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver life-saving items.

The government has been using the railroad, the air force, and the navy to rush oxygen tankers to worst-hit areas where overwhelmed hospitals are unable to cope with an unprecedented surge in patients gasping for air.

But with the government unable to maintain a steady supply of oxygen, several hospital authorities sought a court intervention in the Indian capital 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.

“We can’t have people dying,’’ said Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Patil.

The court said it would start contempt proceedings.

U.S is looking to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to India and other countries

Ground staff unload coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief supplies from the United States at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi, India April 30, 2021. Prakash Singh | Reuters
Ground staff unload coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief supplies from the United States at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi, India April 30, 2021. Prakash Singh | Reuters

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Sunday that the Biden administration is looking to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to India and other countries now that millions of Americans have received their doses.

In recent weeks, India has grappled with a staggering rise in new coronavirus infections. Over the weekend, India reported 400,000 daily cases, bringing the nation’s cumulative total to 19,557,457 cases, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins. The spike may have been triggered by a highly contagious Covid variant, known as B.1.617, which was first identified in the country.

The variant has since been identified in other countries, including the United States, according to CNBC.

On Friday, the White House announced that it would restrict travel from India as the country works to counter its surge of Covid-19 infections.

Klain said that the U.S. has sent therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and protective equipment to the world’s largest democracy as well as raw materials crucial for vaccine production.

“Our U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is going to the WTO next week to start talks on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared,” he said when asked if the Biden administration would relax patent protections on the coronavirus vaccine.

Klain added that he expected the White House to have more to say on the matter in the coming days.

Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed lifting the patent protections of the coronavirus vaccine with Biden, according to a readout of the call. The relaxation would grant governments quicker and more affordable access to the lifesaving doses.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that it will immediately make raw materials needed for India’s coronavirus vaccine production available. The U.S. response came after Britain, France and Germany pledged aid to India, the world’s largest democracy. Rich nations have come under fire in recent days for hoarding the raw materials needed to make the shots.

****READ MORE: India Covid-19 Daily Update (May 2): India threatened by virus mutations that can evade immune system

Malaysia reports first case of Indian COVID-19 variant

Medical workers collect swab samples from people at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
Medical workers collect swab samples from people at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Malaysia has detected its first case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant first identified in India, Health Minister Adham Baba said on Sunday (May 2), days after imposing a ban on flights from India.

The variant, named B.1.617, was detected in an Indian national screened at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, he said.

The World Health Organization has described it as a "variant of interest", suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity.

"We advise the public to remain calm ... All public health efforts will continue in order to break the chain of infection and ensure public safety," Adham said.

He did not say when the variant was detected, according to Reuters.

Malaysia, which is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, on Wednesday banned flights to and from India and prohibited travellers from any Indian destination from entering the country to prevent the spread of the new variant.

India is battling a devastating second wave of the coronavirus that has overwhelmed hospitals, morgues and crematoriums.

Malaysia in February launched a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme, aiming to inoculate 80 per cent of its 32 million people within a year.

The Southeast Asian country reported 3,418 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing its total number of infections to 415,012 cases, including more than 1,500 deaths.

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