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India hits FIVE MILLION coronavirus cases: Country sees an extra million in just 11 days

India’s coronavirus infections soared past 5 million today, with a million of those recorded in just 11 days.

With the fastest rising outbreak of any country in the world, India’s total coronavirus caseload is closing in on the US’s highest tally of more than 6.6 million infections.

The health ministry reported 90,123 new infections on Wednesday, taking the total recorded in the last 11 days to 997,180. 

Another 1,290 fatalities were recorded, taking the COVID-19 death toll to 82,066.  

A medic fits a mask to a coronavirus patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Yatharth Hospital in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, on Tuesday

A medic fits a mask to a coronavirus patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Yatharth Hospital in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, on Tuesday

In the big states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, that are also some of the worst-affected by the virus, demand for oxygen has more than tripled, doctors and government officials said, prompting urgent calls for help.

‘Desperate patients have been calling me through the night but I don’t know when I will get stock,’ Rishikhesh Patil, an oxygen supplier in the western city of Nashik, told Reuters. 

At least 6% of India’s nearly 1 million active cases need oxygen support, health ministry official Rajesh Bhushan told reporters. 

But authorities ruled out imposing a second countrywide lockdown as recoveries were growing at more than 78%.

Its fatality rate is 1.6%, far lower than 3% each in the United States and Brazil, and similar to the UK’s case fatality rate of around 1.5%. 

Most of India’s deaths are concentrated in its large cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune.

But smaller urban centres in Mahrashtra like Nagpur or Jalgaon have also reported more than 1,000 deaths.  

In the capital of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the total requirement of oxygen cylinders stood at 5,000 cylinders compared with 1,000 cylinders in normal times, a government official said.

Community health volunteers check the temperature of a girl in a Mumbai slum on Wednesday

Community health volunteers check the temperature of a girl in a Mumbai slum on Wednesday

The worst-affected state of Maharashtra has decided to reduce supply to neighbouring states to meet its growing demand, a state government official said.

India resumes AstraZeneca vaccine trials

Serum Institute of India has received Indian regulatory approval to resume local clinical trials of AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccine, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The approval came from the Drugs Controller General of India, the source said.

AstraZeneca has resumed British clinical trials of the vaccine – one of the most advanced in development for COVID-19 – after they were paused earlier this month following a serious side effect in a trial participant.

Trials have also resumed in Brazil and South Africa.

The trial remains on hold in the US, the FDA confirmed on Tuesday.

Serum, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. The DCGI did not return an email seeking comment.

Vehicles carrying oxygen will get right of way and can use sirens to ensure they reach hospitals faster.

Ravindra Khade Patil, a doctor who manages two private hospitals on the outskirts of Mumbai, spoke of the stress he faces trying to ensure he can supply his patients with oxygen.

Two days ago, the supplier of oxygen to his hospitals did not turn up at his usual time.

Patil made frantic calls to the supplier and then to nearby hospitals and lawmakers, knowing that if the oxygen didn’t arrive on time, it would be too late for some of his most critical patients.

Finally, past midnight, thanks to pressure from a government official, the oxygen tanks arrived.

‘If they had arrived even a couple of hours late, we could have lost five or six patients. Every day, we are worried if we will be able to meet our requirements, if the oxygen will arrive or not,’ Patil told Reuters.

India’s meagre health resources are poorly divided across the country. Nearly 600 million Indians live in rural areas, and with the virus spreading fast across India’s vast hinterlands, health experts worry that hospitals could be overwhelmed.

Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, exceeding the World Health Organisation’s benchmark of 140 tests per 1 million people.

But many of these are antigen tests, which look for virus proteins and are faster but less accurate compared to RT-PCR, the gold standard for confirming the coronavirus by its genetic code.

With the economy contracting by a record 23.9% in the April-June quarter leaving millions jobless, the Indian government is continuing with relaxing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March. 

A covid patient speaks to his family members via video call using a robot called Mitra at the ICU in New Delhi on Tuesday

A covid patient speaks to his family members via video call using a robot called Mitra at the ICU in New Delhi on Tuesday

The government in May announced a $266 billion stimulus package, but consumer demand and manufacturing are yet to recover.

A large number of offices, shops, businesses, liquor shops, bars and restaurants have reopened. Restricted domestic and international evacuation flights are being operated every day along with train services.

Schools will reopen for senior students from 9-12th standards for consultation with teachers next week.  

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