An Indian leader has warned that the deadly Covid-19 tsunami that is sweeping the country must be contained before it devastates India and threatens the rest of the world.
In a letter, India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a countrywide vaccination programme, and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.
Yesterday, Gandhi said the world’s second-most populous nation had a responsibility in “a globalised and interconnected world” to stop the “explosive” growth of Covid-19 within its borders.
“India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet. The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” wrote Gandhi.
“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world.”
India’s highly infectious Covid-19 variant B.1.617 has already spread to other countries, and many nations have moved to cut or restrict movements from India.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday the government needed to carefully handle the emergence of new coronavirus strains in India that have started to spread in the United Kingdom.
Tonnes of medical equipment from abroad have starting arriving in Delhi hospitals, in what could ease the pressure on an overburdened system.
India has registered an additional 1.5 million new infections in the last week, as well as daily death tolls. It has recorded 21.49 million cases and 234,083 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There are reportedly 3.6 million open cases.
Since religious festivals and political demonstrations attracted tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became’super spreader’ activities, Modi has been widely chastised for not intervening earlier to suppress the second wave of Covid-19.
His administration, which instituted a tight shutdown in March 2020, has also been chastised for easing social controls too quickly after the first wave, as well as for delays in the country’s vaccination programme.
The government has been reluctant to impose a second lockdown for fear of economic damage, though many states have announced their own restrictions.
Goa, a tourism hotspot on the west coast where up to half the people tested in recent weeks for coronavirus have been positive, announced strict curbs from tomorrow, restricting timings for grocery shops, forbidding unnecessary travel and urging citizens to cancel all gatherings.
While India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, it is also struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of Covid-19.
Although the country has administered at least 157m vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply in recent days.
India vaccinated 2.3 million people on Thursday, the most this month but still far short of what is required to curb the spread of the virus.
India reported another record daily rise in Covid-19 cases – 414,188 – yesterday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57m. Deaths from the virus rose by 3,915 to 234,083.
Medical experts said the real extent of Covid-19 was likely to be far higher than official tallies.
India’s healthcare system is crumbling under the weight of patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums cannot handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.
Infections are now spreading from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
Although northern and western areas of India bear the brunt of the disease, the south seems to be turning into the new epicentre.
In the southern city of Chennai, only one in a hundred oxygen-supported beds and two in a hundred beds in intensive care units (ICUs) were vacant on Thursday, from a vacancy rate of more than 20 percent two weeks ago, government data showed.
In Bengaluru, India’s tech hub, also in the south, only 23 of the 590 ICU beds were available.
According to data, the test-positivity rate – the number of people screened who are confirmed to have the disorder – in the city of 12.5 million has nearly tripled to about 39 percent as of Wednesday, up from around 13 percent two weeks earlier.
Syed Tousif Masood, a volunteer with Project Smile Trust, a Covid-19 resource organisation in Bengaluru, said the group’s helpline was receiving an average of 5,000 requests per day for hospital beds and oxygen, up from 50 to 100 calls a month earlier.
“The experts say we have not yet hit the peak,” he said.
“If this is not the peak, then I don’t know what will happen at the real peak.”