Photo: CNN
Photo: CNN

Amid Second Covid Wave, World Responds to India’s Distress Call

Notices about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccines on the gate of a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, on April 20. Photo: CNN
Notices about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccines on the gate of a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, on April 20. Photo: CNN

On Monday, India broke the world record for daily coronavirus infections for a fifth consecutive day, reporting nearly 353,000 new cases. And it added 2,812 deaths to its overall toll of more than 195,000, which experts say may be a vast undercount.

The White House said on Sunday that it had removed impediments to the export of raw materials for vaccines and would also supply India with therapeutics, test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear.

The extent of support the president offers India could lay the foundation for a Biden-Modi relationship at a time when the United States and China are both jockeying for influence with India and greater access to its enormous market.

Mr. Biden’s response to India at its time of crisis has come under scrutiny, raising questions of how far the administration has actually moved away from former President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” foreign policies.

In late March as the domestic caseload began to creep upward, Mr. Modi suddenly stopped exports, crippling the vaccination campaigns of other countries reliant on made-in-India vaccine.

The Indian government is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses produced daily by the Serum Institute, one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So far, only the U.S. has offered to fill some of the shortage.

Still, vaccine shortages have hobbled India’s effort to protect its people. Only about 2 percent of the population has been fully inoculated.

Several other countries have also stepped up to offer support to India.

PM Modi accused of downplaying the country’s response to the pandemic

Health workers transport bodies of people who died with Covid-19 at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital in New Delhi on Saturday. Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Health workers transport bodies of people who died with Covid-19 at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital in New Delhi on Saturday. Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Anger mounted in India on Monday after the government ordered Twitter to remove posts critical of its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated large swaths of the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of downplaying the country’s response to the pandemic. The government's order was aimed at posts that criticized Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, Twitter said on Lumen, a database that keeps track of government orders for online content, NBC News reported.

The takedown comes as India reported 352,991 new infections Monday, a world record for the fifth straight day that raised the country’s total number of cases past 17 million since the pandemic began. According to Johns Hopkins University, 195,123 people have died from Covid-19 in India, the fourth highest total after the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.

The surge has brought pain and desperation to millions of families across the country, many of whom are using Twitter in a bid to secure hospital beds and ventilators, as hospitals deal with an acute shortage of health care.

Modi has remained largely silent about the crisis, while allowing religious festivals and election rallies attended by thousands to continue.

Twitter said it had reviewed the content the government asked it to remove after receiving a "valid legal request" from the Indian government, a spokesperson said. The law cited by the government is the Informational Technology Act, 2000, which allows authorities to order the blocking of public access to information to protect “sovereignty and integrity of India” and maintain public order.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Modi's BJP party did not immediately respond to requests for comment via email and Twitter.

The Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly, told NBC News that the government’s “attempt to silence this criticism is neither proportionate, nor rights respecting.”

“Indians are upset and angry at the state’s failure in preventing these shortages in health care,” Ganguly said.

Australia suspends flights from COVID-19 hotspot India

People wearing masks walk through a mostly empty domestic terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
People wearing masks walk through a mostly empty domestic terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Australia on Tuesday suspended direct flights from India to prevent more virulent coronavirus variants entering the country following a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in the world's second-most populous nation, Reuters reported.

India's coronavirus death toll neared the bleak milestone of 200,000 with another 2,771 fatalities reported on Tuesday, while its armed forces pledged urgent medical aid to help battle the staggering spike in infections.

The suspension of direct passenger flights between the two countries will remain until May 15, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a televised news conference.

"It is a humanitarian crisis and one gripping the world," Morrison said.

Australia's move impacts two passenger services from India into Sydney and two repatriating flights from India to Darwin, totalling around 500 arrivals.

Returning residents and citizens have to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense, a system that has largely helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 29,700 cases and 910 deaths.

The country reported zero new cases of community transmission on Tuesday.

***READ MORE: India COVID-19 Latest News: Situation in 'Beyond Heartbreaking'

Aid to India is a 'drop in the ocean'

Photo: Associated Press
Photo: Associated Press

India is in crisis. Hospitals have run out of supplies, family members are desperately driving from clinic to clinic in search of a spare bed for their loved ones, and mass cremations are a daily occurrence, as hundreds of thousands more people are infected with Covid-19 each day.

The country has reported more than 17.6 million cases since the pandemic began. But the real number, experts fear, could be up to 30 times higher -- meaning more than half a billion infections.

The United States said Monday that it will share millions of doses of its stockpiled AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. While White House officials did not say which countries will get the shots, the move follows global pressure to include India.

Countries such as the US have been lining up in recent days to send medical supplies to India, but some fear it may not be enough to help halt the country's enormous second wave. "It is a drop in an ocean," Mumbai-based Dr. Zarir Udwadia told the BBC on Tuesday, after the United Kingdom donated ventilators.

Udwadia added that the US's AstraZeneca stockpile should come to India because "the country needs 2 billion doses at the very least," but the world's biggest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute of India, based in Pune, is struggling to keep up with demand.

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