Indian states seek widening of vaccination amid second COVID wave

So far, India has vaccinated only about 1 in 25 people, compared with nearly 1 in 2 in the UK and 1 in 3 in the US.

Health workers take swab samples to test for COVID-19 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai [File: Rajanish Kakade/AP]
Health workers take swab samples to test for COVID-19 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai [File: Rajanish Kakade/AP]

Many Indian state leaders have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open up vaccinations to most of the country’s hundreds of millions of adults, following a second surge in infections that has eclipsed the first wave.

India reached the grim record of 100,000 daily infections for the first time on Monday. On Tuesday, the country reported 96,982 cases, data from the health ministry showed. There were 446 new deaths, taking the total to 165,547.

With nearly 12.7 million cases, India is the worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.

The country, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, this month expanded its vaccination programme to include everyone above the age of 45.

So far it has vaccinated only about 1 in 25 people, compared with nearly 1 in 2 in the United Kingdom and 1 in 3 in the US, according to the Our World in Data website.

“If a larger number of young and working population is vaccinated, the intensity of the cases would be much lower than the treatment that they need today,” Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister of India’s worst-affected Maharashtra state, wrote in a letter to Modi late on Monday.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and many other states have also asked for faster and wider vaccinations, with some such as Odisha repeatedly flagging shortages in vaccine supplies even for the prioritised groups.

The Delhi government also announced a night curfew in the capital until April 30, Indian media reports said on Tuesday.

The federal government has said it will widen the vaccination campaign in the “near future” to include more people, and that vaccine supplies are being stepped up.

The country’s daily infections have risen manyfold since hitting a multi-month low in early February when authorities eased most restrictions and people largely stopped wearing masks and following social distancing.

India has recorded the most number of infections in the past week anywhere in the world. More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in the second surge, some epidemiologists say.

There is also widespread criticism over tens of thousands of mostly maskless people crowding political rallies across four states holding elections. Modi and his close cabinet colleagues have also addressed election rallies.

There are also concerns over tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathering on the banks of the river Ganges, in the northern state of Uttarakhand ruled by Modi’s party, for the weeks long ‘Kumbh Mela’, or pitcher festival.

Organisers had initially expected more than 150 million people to arrive, though the numbers are likely to be much lower now due the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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