South Asia surpasses grim milestone of 15m cases
NEW DELHI, April 10: Coronavirus infections in the South Asia sub-region surpassed the grim milestone of 15 million on Saturday, led by India's record daily infections and vaccine shortages.
South Asia - India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka - accounts for 11% of global cases and almost 6% of deaths. The region accounts for 23% of the world's population of 7.59 billion people.
India, the country with the third-highest coronavirus total, accounts for over 84% of South Asia's cases and deaths. The world's second-most populous country reported 145,384 new cases on Saturday, the fastest climb in the world and the country's
fifth record this week, as well as 794 deaths. The government blames the current spike on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks.
India is accounting for one in every six reported infections in its current surge. While ramping up its vaccination drive, inoculating about 4 million people a day, several states said they were rationing doses as the federal government was not refilling stocks in time.
India's western neighbour Pakistan, the second-hardest hit in the region, is in its third wave, recording more than 700,000 cases and 15,000 related deaths. It has seen a sharp rise in cases in the past 10 days. Officials say there are now more people in intensive care than at any other point during the pandemic.
Bangladesh, India's eastern neighbour, is reporting about 7,000 cases a day, totalling some 678,937 cases. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given Bangladesh 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
At least 94.1 million people had received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose in southern Asia by Friday, according to figures from Our World in Data.
New cases in the world's second-most populous country have totalled the most of anywhere in the world over the last two weeks. India's overall tally of 13.21 million is the third-highest globally, just shy of Brazil and below the worst affected country, the United States.
The second surge in infections, which has spread much more rapidly than the first one that peaked in September, has forced many states to impose fresh curbs but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refused to impose a national lockdown given the high economic costs.
Authorities in Maharashtra, the Indian state with the highest cases, have ordered a weekend lockdown that will end early on Monday. Mega cities such as Mumbai, the country's financial centre and Maharashtra's capital, and the national capital of New Delhi have also imposed nightly curfews until the end of April. India reported 145,384 new COVID-19 cases and 794 deaths, the Health Ministry reported.
Despite that, Prime Minister Modi again addressed an election rally crowded with thousands of people, many without masks, in the eastern state of West Bengal.
The government has blamed the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as businesses across the country have reopened since February, only to be partially shut again to control the current surge.
In Mumbai, hundreds of poor migrant workers crammed onto trains this week to flee, potentially risking a wider outbreak in smaller towns and villages. The railways department called it a usual rush this time of year for people to harvest crops back home and celebrate festivals.
Many states have complained of a vaccine shortage though immunisations are currently restricted to only about 400 million of India's 1.35 billion people. The health minister said on Thursday the government had more than 43 million doses in stock or in the pipeline, which may be enough for only about 10 days going by the immunisation trend.
India, the world's biggest maker of vaccines, has so far administered 97.5 million doses, using the AstraZeneca shot and another developed at home by Bharat Biotech. Arvinder Singh Soin, a surgeon and leading liver transplant specialist, is one of many top Indian medical authorities that have criticized the government for its slow approach to approving other vaccines by insisting on the need for local trials for shots formulated abroad.
"We need to immediately facilitate the approval of the next lot of vaccines," Soin said on Twitter. "Insistence on bridging trials data not relevant anymore given the situation. Millions have had these all over the world."
The country breached the 100,000 mark for the first time on Monday. Only the United States has reported more cases in a day since the pandemic began over a year ago. India's total deaths have now swelled to 168,436, health ministry data showed, though it has one of the lowest fatality rates, partly attributed to its relatively younger population.
Still, crematoriums have been overwhelmed in some Indian cities. In Surat in the western state of Gujarat, officials were seeking additional crematorium workers to handle the overflow. It has dropped a plan to rope in teachers after online criticism.
In the northern city of Lucknow, distraught relatives had to wait for hours to perform the last rites of their family members in the area's only electric crematorium, said its officer-in-charge Mohammad Wasimuddin. In Hinduism, the religion for the majority of Indians, cremation is the traditional method for dealing with the physical body after death. -REUTERS