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India expands faltering Covid-19 vaccine drive as new cases soar

India’s devastating Covid-19 surge further accelerated on Saturday with more than 400,000 new cases in 24 hours, as vaccinations opened to all adults despite shortages of shots.

The hard-hit capital New Delhi meanwhile extended its
shutdown for another week while top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said that
India should go into a national lockdown for “a few weeks”.

Two months ago the health minister said India was in the
“end game” of the pandemic as it sent millions of vaccines abroad,
but now exports have stopped and people are desperate to be inoculated.

A crowd of people formed outside one Delhi hospital on
Saturday — one of very few offering shots to those under 45 years old.

“There are so many people that are getting sick… so
we just wanted to be here as soon as possible,” one of those waiting,
Aadya Mehta, 25, told AFP.

Until now, only “frontline” workers like medical
staff, people over 45 and those with pre-existing illnesses have been given the
AstraZeneca or Covaxin shots.

But even this more modest programme has stumbled, with some
areas running out of jabs and others throwing them away because of lack of
demand, in part because some people are scared to leave home during this recent
surge.

So far, around 150 million shots have been administered,
equating to 11.5 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people. Just 25
million have had two doses.

‘Confusion reigns’

With the expansion of the rollout to all adults, around 600
million more people are now eligible to get vaccinated, but many states said
they have insufficient stocks.

Millions of younger people terrified by the current
situation and desperate to get inoculated registered on the government’s
digital platform.

But very few of them have been given appointments and only
around half a dozen of India’s 28 states began vaccinating people under 45, and
in many cases only a token scale.

“Half my family is positive, so everybody wanted us to
get vaccinated,” data scientist Megha Srivastava, 35, told AFP outside the
Max clinic, one of three private hospitals in the capital vaccinating younger
people.

“It won’t completely protect us, but it will ensure
that even if we get infected, we’ll recover,” she said.

Further confusion has been created by the government’s
decision to ask states and private hospitals to order vaccine supplies on their
own.

“We have contacted Serum Institute of India that has
said they will be able to provide doses only after six months,” DS Rana,
chair of the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, told the Hindustan Times daily.

C.K. Bakshi, a doctor at one government hospital, said there
was “no issue with supply” and was vaccinating almost 300 people a
day. But it did not have government permission to jab under 45s, she told AFP.

In Kolkata, Rupak Barua, president of the Association of
Hospitals of Eastern India (AHEI), told AFP that “confusion reigns”.

Targeted policy

“The whole thing looks like a confused elephant to me
right now,” said T Jacob John, a retired clinical virology professor at
the Christian Medical College Vellore.

“Do you want to control the epidemic, save lives or
both? If you want both you’ll require a huge amount of vaccines. And we don’t
have it,” John told AFP.

He and other experts say that given the shortages, and its
colossal population, India should have a much more targeted policy,
concentrating vaccinations in hotspots.

Gujarat is among the few states to have said they would do
so, with chief minister Vijay Rupani saying Friday that vaccinations for
over-18s would happen only in the 10 worst-hit districts.

Fauci said in an interview with the Indian Express published
Saturday that India was “in a very difficult and desperate situation”
and that it “absolutely (has) to get more people vaccinated”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has resisted
imposing a national shutdown lockdown but many states have imposed heavy
restrictions.

Russia on Saturday became the latest country to send aid,
with the first shipment of 150,000 Sputnik V vaccines arriving by aircraft.

Indian firms also have deals to produce millions of doses of other vaccines including Sputnik V and Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, but it could be months until these are deployed.

Hospital fire kills 16 Covid patients, 2 nurses

At least 16 Covid-19 patients and two nurses died Saturday in the latest in a series of hospital fires in India, officials said.

There were around 50 other patients at the four-storey hospital in Bharuch in the western state of Gujarat when the blaze began at 1:00 am (0730 GMT). It has since been put out.

The death toll stood at 18, local police official Rajendrasinh Chudasama told AFP, “including 16 patients and two nurses.”

“Primary investigation revealed that the fire started due to a short-circuit in the ICU of the hospital,” he said.

On April 23 a fire on the outskirts of Mumbai killed 13 Covid-19 patients, a few days after another blaze left 22 people dead at another clinic, also in Maharashtra state.

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