India’s coronavirus outbreak has stabilised in parts of the country, a government official said, but deaths rose by 4,194 on Saturday and infections were spreading in rural areas. A new infection, called black fungus, is also complicating matters further.
Earlier this month, India reported more than 400,000 new daily infections but the numbers have gradually eased. On Saturday, government data showed 257,299 new cases.
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Active cases in the Maharashtra and Karnataka states and the coastal state of Kerala had fallen in the last two weeks, health ministry official Lav Agarwal told reporters on Saturday.
Daily numbers in states, including West Bengal, which recently concluded state elections, and the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were on the rise, he said.
With hospitals overflowing, the health system overwhelmed in the cities and a shortage of vaccines, experts have warned India could face a third wave of infections in the coming months.
“While it [spread of coronavirus] has stabilised in many parts of the country, and overall the burden has been lessened, we have a long way to go with this wave,” Dr VK Paul, part of a federal government panel on COVID-19 management, told a news conference.
“For the first time, we have seen that rural areas have been affected in this pandemic.”
Total infections in the country stood at 26.3 million, the second-highest in the world after the United States, while the country’s total death toll was 295,525.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state authorities have faced widespread criticism for failing to counter the pandemic as many officials gear up for another surge.
The slow pace of vaccination in the country is another big concern.
Delhi’s chief minister said authorities had been forced to halt vaccinations for those aged between 18 and 44 as supplies had run out.
Black fungus scare
The Indian government has asked states to report cases of mucormycosis, also known as black fungus – a deadly infection that has been appearing in patients who have had the coronavirus.
The condition causes discolouration of the eyes and nose, blurred vision, chest pain, and breathing difficulties. In some cases, doctors have had to remove one or both eyes, or part of the jaw to stop the disease from spreading.
States across India have also ordered emergency measures to counter a surge in the rare infection among coronavirus patients.
According to medical professionals, diabetic patients were more likely to have the ailment.
Gujarat and Telangana states on Thursday became the latest to declare black fungus epidemics, a day after Rajasthan.
Maharashtra state has reported more than 2,000 cases. Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi, has about 1,200 cases, officials said.
“Doctors say coronavirus patients with diabetes and a weakened immune system, are particularly prone to infection,” Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam reported from New Delhi.
“They believe the use of steroids to treat severe COVID-19 could be contributing to the condition of the pre-diabetic population.”