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Maharashtra hit by biggest virus surge, hospital beds fill up fast

  • Published at 10:10 pm March 19th, 2021
Mumbai Covid test
A healthcare worker in personal protective equipment collects a swab sample from a woman during a testing campaign for the coronavirus disease, in Navi Mumbai, India, March 5, 2021 Reuters

‘Why can't the world's pharmacy provide vaccines to its own citizens?’ asks a university teacher

India's financial capital Mumbai is facing a second wave of Covid-19 infections that could overwhelm its health facilities, doctors said on Friday, after a record daily increase in cases in its home state Maharashtra.

New infections in India rose on the day by the highest in more than three months, heralding a return of school closures, shopping restrictions and other virus-fighting measures in parts of the world's worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.

Many Indians have also started questioning the government's highly publicized vaccine exports campaign when only a fraction of the country's 1.35 billion people have been inoculated.

India has gifted or exported almost 60 million doses, compared with 39 million doses given at home since the middle of January. The world's biggest vaccine-making country wants to inoculate 300 million people by August, a little over a fifth of its population.

"I don't spite our COVID19 vaccine diplomacy; but where is my vaccine?!" Happymon Jacob, who teaches diplomacy at New Delhi's elite Jawaharlal Nehru University, said on Twitter. "Why can't the world's pharmacy provide vaccines to its own citizens?"

Maharashtra authorities were meeting to draw up stricter guidelines to contain crowding, officials said, as a wholesale reopening of businesses last month brought back millions of people to the world's busiest urban rail network in Mumbai and to cinemas and malls.

India's overall tally of infections stands at 11.51 million, swelled by 39,726 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its highest since November 30. Deaths rose by 154 to 159,370, data from the health ministry showed.

Maharashtra, India's economic mainstay, reported a record 25,833 cases, accounting for 65% of the country's new infections in the past 24 hours. India's cases peaked at nearly 100,000 a day in September, falling continuously after that but rising again since late last month.

The state of 112 million people has already imposed a lockdown in some districts and put curbs on cinemas, hotels and restaurants until the end of the month. The rules were set to tighten further in Mumbai with mandatory testing to limit movement inside malls and cinemas, a senior official with the city's Covid-19 task-force said.

Banks were also looking to limit staffing at several branches in the city.

'Proper second wave'

Doctors have blamed the resurgence in cases on people's relaxed attitude to mask-wearing and other social distancing measures, warning that hospital wards were swiftly filling up.

In other major industrial cities including Nagpur and Pune, Covid-19 facilities have also seen a sharp rise.

"It's a proper second wave," said Amit Thadhani, medical director of Niramaya Hospitals in Mumbai suburb Panvel.

He said his hospital now had more than 20 Covid-19 patients and more wards were being added to manage the inflow, versus one or two patients in January.

A doctor at King Edward Memorial government hospital in Mumbai, one of the oldest in the city, said: "If cases continue to rise like this for a week or so, a crisis is imminent.”

The state health minister said they had requested 2 million vaccine doses per week from the federal government, with the aim of inoculating 300,000 people per day.

"We are aggressively vaccinating people," Rajesh Tope told reporters.

The capital, New Delhi, has also reported a steady rise in infections over the last two weeks, prompting city authorities to scale up its immunization drive to 125,000 doses per day, from about 40,000.

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