NEW DELHI: India surged past 10 million coronavirus cases on Saturday, official data showed, the second highest in the world although new infection rates appear to have fallen sharply in recent weeks.
Total cases were 10.0 million, up just over 25,000 in 24 hours, with 9.6 million recoveries and 145,136 deaths, according to the health ministry.
In September, the vast nation of 1.3 billion people had been recording daily new cases of almost 100,000 and looked on track to surpass the United States as the worst-hit country.
But the pandemic has accelerated in the US and appears to have lost momentum in India, despite the country being home to some of the most crowded cities on the planet.
The United States, with a population a quarter the size of India’s, has been reporting upwards of 200,000 new cases in recent weeks, 10 times as many as India.
India’s fatality rate is also considerably lower — less than half that of the US. Brazil has also reported more deaths at 185,000.
Residents in the capital New Delhi told AFP they were still worried but were more comfortable than before about leaving their homes.
“Obviously the fear levels have come down over time. Initially, it was more scary. Now we don’t worry that much,” housewife Huma Zaidi said.
“But we are still taking precautions like wearing masks when going out and avoiding social gatherings.”
India has lifted restrictions on most activities to boost the struggling economy, although some states and territories have reimposed curbs to stem the spread of the virus.
The 10-million mark came as the world’s second-most populous nation gears up for the vast and challenging task of starting to vaccinate the population next year.
The government aims to inoculate 300 million people initially, with health workers and other frontline staff expected to be the first to receive the jabs.
India has yet to approve any vaccines but several drugmakers have applied for authorisation, including AstraZeneca, which has partnered with India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker.
Health ministry officials were expected to meet staff from the Election Commission — which carries out vast state and national polls — in the next few days as they map out how to distribute the shots, the Press Trust of India reported on Thursday.
Experts have cautioned that the country could struggle because of its weak cold-chain infrastructure — needed for keeping vaccines refrigerated — particularly in poor and densely populated urban areas and remote rural regions.
“All the experience that India has in vaccinating is on the much smaller game of annual vaccinations of children,” Satyajit Rath, an immunologist at the National Institute of Immunology, told AFP.
“I’m not sure that India’s public healthcare systems are sufficiently developed… Even mildly below-freezing requirements (for vaccine transportation and storage) are likely to prove extremely challenging in the rural hinterland’s healthcare system services.”
Meanwhile, US set yet another record for new coronavirus cases on Friday, at almost 250,000, even as a second vaccine, from Moderna, was approved.According to Johns Hopkins University, 249,709 new cases were recorded, up from more than 247,000 on Thursday and part of caseload close to 17.5 m.
There were 2,814 deaths, down from more than 3,300 on Thursday but still among the deadliest days in US history. The death toll stood at 313,406.
According to the Covid Tracking Project, 114,751 people were hospitalised, another record high. Nearly 22,000 people were in intensive care.
With Congress unable to agree a new stimulus and relief package – and narrowly avoiding a government shutdown on Friday – states were struggling to cope.
California, the most populous state, recorded more than 41,000 new cases and 300 deaths, both among its highest single-day totals during the pandemic.
In the last week, California has reported more than a quarter-million cases and 1,500 deaths.
Hospitals are battling to find beds amid fears exploding infections will exhaust resources and workers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a “stay at home” order for London and southeast England to slow a new coronavirus strain that is significantly more infectious.
Early data suggests the new strain could be “up to 70 percent more transmissible,” Johnson said at a televised briefing.
He ordered new restrictions for London and south-eastern England from Sunday, saying that “residents in those areas must stay at home” at least until December 30.
The aim of the new rules is to slow the spread of the new strain to areas where it is not yet prevalent.
The measures will mean around a third of England’s population cannot travel or meet other households for Christmas.
Source: The News