The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 143 million on Wednesday, as India reported a seventh straight day with more than 200,000 new cases, overwhelming its hospitals and creating a drastic shortage of supplies, including medical oxygen.
India’s Health Ministry counted 295,041 new cases and 2,023 deaths, bringing its official death toll to 182,553, the Associated Press reported. India has counted 15.6 million cases since the start of the pandemic, second only to the U.S.’s 31.8 million cases.
The surge is being blamed in part on superspreader events — a recent Hindu festival brought together thousands of people for a ritual bath in the Ganges River where few wore face masks, and political leaders have held crowded election rallies in five states at which tens of thousands gathered without face coverings.
But India is also struggling with a “double mutant” strain that is understood to be more transmissible than the original virus. Called the B.1.617 strain, the new variant has two spike proteins instead of one. Scientists are uncertain how dangerous it is as India’s ability to conduct genomic sequencing is being hampered by the current crisis and high case burden.
The rapid spread of the new variant through Maharashtra state, home of financial capital Mumbai, is a key reason that the U.K. has banned travel form India, according to the Guardian.
Experts have criticized the Indian government for reopening from a lockdown too early, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been slammed for his own failure to wear a face mask at rallies, setting a bad example to state leaders and officials. New Delhi hospitals are filling with younger people; about 65% of cases in Delhi are in people under 40 years of age, the Guardian reported.
Modi said in an address to the nation late Tuesday that the second wave of cases has hit “like a storm.” But he also urged states to only use lockdowns as a last resort. “Try as much as possible to protect yourselves from lockdown. Focus on micro-containment zones.”
Modi also promised that all Indians above the age of 18 will be vaccinated from May 1, even though the country is short of supplies. India has so far fully vaccinated just 1.3% of its population and partially vaccinated 8.1%, according to a New York Times tracker.
The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show good progress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, 272 million doses had been delivered to states, 213.4 million doses had been administered, and 133.3 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 40.1% of the population.
A full 86.2 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 26% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
with German partner BioNTech SE
and Moderna Inc.
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
one-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among Americans 65 and older, 35.6 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.1% of that group. Almost 44 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 80.3% of that population.
In other news:
• Pfizer has identified in Mexico and Poland the first confirmed instances of counterfeit versions of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with German-based BioNTech, the latest attempt by criminals to exploit the worldwide vaccination campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported. Vials seized by authorities in separate investigations were tested by the company and confirmed to contain bogus vaccine. The vials recovered in Mexico also had fraudulent labeling, while a substance inside vials in Poland was likely an anti-wrinkle treatment, Pfizer said.
• Capsules or tablets to treat patients with mild coronavirus disease at home could be ready as soon as the fall, the U.K. government has announced, MarketWatch’s Lina Saigol reported. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he is launching a new antivirals task force that will “supercharge” the search for at-home treatments designed to “stop COVID-19 in its tracks” and speed up recovery time. It is hoped at least two effective treatments, either in a tablet or capsule form, will be made available for people who have tested for positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, later this year.
• Disneyland Paris is planning to host a mass COVID vaccination site at its convention center starting Saturday, as France seeks to speed up its lagging program, AFP reported. The amusement park east of the capital has been closed since Oct. 30, when nonessential businesses were ordered to close amid a surge in infections, putting its 17,000 employees out of work. It had originally planned to admit visitors on April 2, but worsening conditions forced it to postpone reopening.
• Separately, France will begin using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine starting next week, the Guardian reported, citing a government spokesman. The news comes a day after the European Medicines Agency determined that there is a possible link between the J&J vaccine and rare blood clotting and that it should include a warning to that effect, but it said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh risks.
• Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Russians to get vaccinated as part of an annual address to the nation Wednesday. “Everyone must have the opportunity to be vaccinated, as this will allow for so-called collective immunity to be developed in the autumn,” he said. “A solution to this problem lies in our and your hands, in the hands of all citizens. I once again address all Russian citizens with the call: Get vaccinated.” The Kremlin has said so far that vaccination levels are short of what is needed.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 143 million on Wednesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, as the death toll climbed above 3.04 million.
More than 82 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.
The U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 31.8 million cases, or more than 20% of the global total, while the 568,475 death toll makes up about 20% of the global total.
Brazil is third by cases after India at 14 million and second with a death toll of 378,003.
Mexico is third by deaths at 213,048 and 14th highest by cases at 2.3 million.
The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,557 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,294 confirmed cases and 4,845 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively under-reported.
Ireland, with a population of just 4.5 million, now has more deaths, at 4,847, than China’s official figure. China has a population of 1.4 billion.