India posts 386,452 new cases as US military plane brings the first emergency supplies to help country battle the surge.
Several Indian states have run out of COVID-19 vaccines a day before a planned widening of a nationwide inoculation drive, authorities said, as new infections in the crisis-hit country surged to another daily record.
India’s vaccination drive for everyone older than 18 years is set to open from Saturday, but many states said they have run out of doses.
Worst-hit large states including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and capital territory Delhi said they had not been assured of adequate supplies and would not be able to start the vaccinations on Saturday.
Inoculation centres in Mumbai would be shut for three days starting Friday because of the shortage of vaccines, authorities said.
Only 2.2 million people were vaccinated on Thursday, the lowest daily figure for vaccinations in the past 10 days, broadcaster NDTV reported, indicating how the vaccine drive was floundering.
So far, only 10 percent of India’s 1.35 billion people – 45 years and above eligible under the drive that began in January – have received at least one vaccine dose.
In the southern state of Karnataka, home to the tech hub of Bengaluru, the state’s health minister said the vaccination drive for adults will not begin on May 1.
“The state government has not received any information from companies about when they will be able to supply these vaccines,” said Health Minister K Sudhakar.
India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines but does not have enough stockpiles to keep up with the second deadly COVID-19 wave, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government planning to vaccinate all adults starting May 1.
“I registered to get a slot 28 days before, but now they are saying there are no vaccines,” Twitter user Jasmin Oza said in a video post.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, officials said vaccination for the 18-45 age group is expected to start in two weeks, as the state expects to receive vaccines by then.
“We will begin vaccinating those above 18 when we have the vaccine stocks. We are working very hard to get the vaccines, and I am confident we will be able to start the vaccination within the next 15 days,” Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said.
Officials in the eastern state of Odisha said they hoped to start vaccinations on Monday if vaccine stocks arrive.
Record rise in cases continues
India on Friday reported 386,452 news cases in the past 24 hours, while deaths from COVID-19 jumped by 3,498, according to health ministry data.
However, medical experts believe actual COVID-19 numbers could be five to 10 times the official tally.
India has added about 7.7 million cases since the end of February, when its second wave picked up steam, according to a Reuters news agency tally. In contrast, it took India nearly six months to add the previous 7.7 million cases.
The world’s second-most populous nation is in deep crisis, with hospitals and morgues overwhelmed by the pandemic, medicines and oxygen in short supply and strict curbs on movement in its biggest cities.
India had originally planned to vaccinate only 300 million of its highest-risk people by August, but widened the target due to the rise in cases.
However, its two vaccine producers were already struggling to increase capacity beyond 80 million doses a month due to a shortage of raw materials and a fire at the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the country.
World sends medical aid
Meanwhile, world aid has started arriving in India as it struggles to combat what has been described as a humanitarian disaster.
The first United States’ flight carrying oxygen cylinders, regulators, rapid diagnostic kits, N95 masks and pulse oximeters arrived in the Indian capital on Friday.
“Just as India came to our aid early in the pandemic, the US is committed to working urgently to provide assistance to India in its time of need,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.
“Today we are proud to deliver our first shipment of critical oxygen equipment, therapeutics and raw materials for vaccine production.”
The US will send more than $100m in medical aid, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic test kits. It has also redirected its order of AstraZeneca supplies to India, to allow it to make more than 20 million doses.
Shipments from other countries continued to pour in, with a third one from the United Kingdom reaching earlier in the day. Romania and Ireland also sent supplies late on Thursday.
Two more weeks of oxygen crisis
India’s severe medical oxygen supply crisis is expected to ease by mid-May, a top industry executive told Reuters, with output rising by 25 percent and transport infrastructure ready to cope with a surge in demand.
India will receive the first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on May 1. Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which markets Sputnik V globally, has signed deals with five Indian manufacturers for more than 850 million vaccine doses a year.
Prominent US disease modeller Chris Murray, from the University of Washington, said the sheer magnitude of infections in India in a short period of time suggests an “escape variant” may be overpowering any prior immunity from natural infections in those populations.
“That makes it most likely that it’s B.1.617,” he said. But Murray cautioned that gene sequencing data on the coronavirus in India is sparse, and that many cases are also being driven by the UK and South African variants.
Carlo Federico Perno, head of microbiology and immunology diagnostics at Rome’s Bambino Gesù Hospital, said the Indian variant could not alone be the reason for the country’s huge surge, pointing instead to large social gatherings.
Modi has been criticised for allowing huge political rallies and religious festivals which have been super-spreader events in recent weeks.
Modi is scheduled to meet cabinet ministers on Friday as the wave of infections cripples the nation’s health system and threatens to affect key businesses. Absenteeism in offices and industries is growing with staff falling sick or taking leave to tend to sick relatives.