India urged to speed up vaccine campaign as country records 100,000 cases in a single day
Doctors and local government officials are urging Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to extend vaccinations to younger people as the country’s hospitals face being overwhelmed with a second wave of Covid.
The number of deaths has risen sharply alongside the increase in cases, with the seven-day average of daily cases and deaths both rising by nearly 350 per cent since early March.
The chief ministers of several Indian states and the Indian Medical Association have demanded that Mr Modi speed up the country’s vaccination drive and lower the age of those eligible for the jab.
“If a larger number of our young and working population is vaccinated, the intensity of the cases would be much lower than the treatment that they need today,” said Maharashtra chief minister Uddav Thackeray in a letter to Mr Modi.
Currently, those eligible for the jab are frontline workers, healthcare workers, and those over the age of 45. India is administering around four million doses a day, but only six per cent of the population has so far received the first dose.
Officials have resorted to handing out incentives for vaccination and in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat women who get the jab are given gold nose pins. And in Bandipura in Kashmir officials have tied vaccination to food aid.
The rush to get people vaccinated comes as hospitals begin to report shortages of beds. Videos have been circulating showing factory workers being treated for Covid-19 in their homes due to a shortage of hospital beds.
Several private hospitals and government hospitals in the Indian capital city of New Delhi have also reportedly run out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds with ventilators.
In Aurangabad, in the hard-hit state of Maharashtra, relatives are putting out pleas on social media in a desperate search for hospital places for their loved ones.
At a government-run hospital in Ghati Aurangabad, dozens of Covid patients were seen lying on the floor and connected to IV fluids and nebulisers.
“Corona has wreaked havoc in Maharashtra. There are no beds, no oxygen for our patients. Our patients are dying,” said Shantanu Birare, who has been looking for a hospital bed for his mother in Aurangabad.
Demand for oxygen has gone up by about three times in the city. “The oxygen consumption in Aurangabad has gone up from 17.10 ton per day on March 14 to 49.50 ton per day,” a health official said.
Dr Giridhar R Babu, an epidemiologist at the Public Health Foundation of India, said there was a range of factors behind the surge in cases. New virus variants are more infectious than before, the country’s vaccination roll out has been slow, immunity among people infected in the first wave is waning and large gatherings and a lack of social distancing are driving transmission.
Dr Babu said: “More than the capacity, India needs smart management. The second wave has just started ascending now and in the days to come we need far more efficient mechanisms to manage.”
Dr Shahid Jameel, director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, said the pandemic was accelerating more quickly in the second wave than in the first.
“This high rate of increase suggests a more transmissible virus. Whether this is fuelled by viral variants is indicative but not confirmed,” Dr Jameel said.
He said the R number – the number of people each infected person passes the virus onto – was 1.65 and there was a danger healthcare facilities would become overwhelmed.