A third wave of the coronavirus is “inevitable”, the government’s top scientific adviser said on Wednesday, warning that vaccines will need to be “updated” to deal with the new strains that have sped up the contagion in India, overwhelming hospitals and killing thousands.
“Phase 3 (third wave) is inevitable, given the high levels at which this virus is circulating. But it is not clear at what time scale this Phase 3 will occur. Hopefully, incrementally, but we should prepare for new waves. Ongoing surveillance is needed as are vaccine upgrades,” Dr K VijayRaghavan said at a government briefing.
Battered by a ferocious second wave of the coronavirus, India accounted for nearly half the cases reported worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, as COVID-19 deaths in the nation rose by a record 3,780 during the past 24 hours.
In a weekly report, the WHO said India accounted for 46 per cent of global cases and a quarter of global deaths reported in the past week.
Daily infections rose by 3.82 lakh on Wednesday, health ministry data showed even as testing has slowed in many areas. The number has been in excess of 3 lakh every day for the past two weeks.
Hospitals are scrabbling for beds and oxygen as they desperately battle a second deadly surge in infections, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to deal with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies.
Many people have died in ambulances and car parks waiting for a bed or oxygen.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, as religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people to “super spreader” events.
“We need a government. Desperately. And we don’t have one. We are running out of air. We are dying,” the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy wrote in an opinion piece that called for PM Modi to step down.
“This is a crisis of your making,” she added in the article published on Tuesday.
“You cannot solve it. You can only make it worse….So please go. It is the most responsible thing for you to do. You have forfeited the moral right to be our prime minister.”
India’s delegation to the Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting in London is self-isolating after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19, Britain said on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, who is in London, said in a Twitter message that he would attend virtually. Broadcaster Sky News said Mr Jaishankar did not test positive for the virus, however.
West Bengal, which dealt PM Modi’s party a defeat in an election last week, suspended local train services and limited working hours for banks and jewellery shops, among its steps to limit infections.
Medical experts say India’s actual figures could be five to 10 times the official tallies. The country has added one crore cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach its first crore.
Two “oxygen express” trains carrying liquid oxygen arrived in the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday, railways minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter. More than 25 trains have distributed oxygen supplies nationwide.
The government says supplies are sufficient but transport woes have hindered distribution.
India’s surge in infections has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations because of supply and delivery problems.
At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, have reported a scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.
Lengthy queues formed outside two centres in the western city that still have vaccine supplies, and some of those waiting pleaded for police to open their gates earlier.
Daily testing has fallen sharply to 15 lakh, state-run Indian Council of Medical Research said on Wednesday, off a peak of 19.5 lakh on Saturday.
The opposition has urged a nationwide lockdown, but the government is reluctant to impose one for fear of the economic fallout, although several states have adopted social curbs.
The central bank asked banks on Wednesday to allow more time for some borrowers to repay, as the infection surge threatens a nascent economic revival.
In the remote state of Mizoram bordering Myanmar, beds in its biggest coronavirus hospital are in such short supply that all victims of other diseases have been asked to leave, said government official Dr Z R Thiamsanga.
Just three of a total 14 ventilators were still available.
“In my opinion, a complete lockdown is required to control the situation,” he told Reuters from the state capital, Aizawl.
Public health experts believe India will not reach herd immunity any time soon, though hospitalisations and deaths will fall off within six to nine months, the Economic Times newspaper said.
Herd immunity is reached when a sufficiently large share of the population has been vaccinated or infected, generating antibodies.
Cricket officials suspended the hugely popular Indian Premier League (IPL) on Tuesday as players tested positive.
(With inputs from Reuters)