05/04/2021, 15.38
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COVID-19: outbreak slows down in Mumbai but the emergency remains

It is too early to say whether the new wave has reached its peak. The Modi government is slammed for the lack of transparency in allocating international aid. Indian authorities only now authorise the evaluation of the Pfizer vaccine.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – After reaching a record of more than 400,000 daily coronavirus cases four days ago, India has seen the number drop for the third consecutive day.

In the last 24 hours, 357,279 new cases were reported, a significant decline, especially in Mumbai, the metropolis where the new pandemic outbreak began in February.

Yet, it is still too early to say whether the new wave has crested. In fact, the situation remains very serious, with hospitals on the verge of collapse and oxygen still in short supply for weeks.

The official number of deaths from COVID-19 remains high: 3,449 yesterday, for a total of 222,408 since the pandemic began.

These figures do not provide a full picture, and are thought to underestimate the real situation. On twitter, journalists in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have noted the discrepancy between the number of bodies in crematoria and the figures for COVID-19 deaths released by authorities.

Meanwhile, the use of international aid landing at Indira Gandhi airport in New Delhi is proving increasingly controversial.

In the past five days, 25 planes loaded with 300 tonnes of emergency supplies from 14 countries arrived, bringing 5,500 oxygen concentrators, 3,200 cylinders and 136,000 doses of the antiviral medication remdesivir, which is currently impossible to find in India.

The vaccine is not been transported by air to other parts of the country and the Modi government has not explained how it intends to distribute the emergency aid. In light of the situation, the Congress Party has called for transparency.

People “should know where the relief material is coming and going. This is our demand as well as that of the people of the country," a spokesperson for the party said.

More generally, it is the authorities’ handling of the pandemic that has come under closer scrutiny in India.

The vaccination campaign, on which the Modi government has set everything, continues to struggle. With 157 million doses so far, just over 10 per cent of the population has had at least one jab.

The Sputnik V vaccine has begun to arrive from Russia to increase the pace, and this summer it should be manufactured in India, but the Pfizer vaccine, which has been used for months in many other countries, has not yet been allowed in the country.

Only now, Indian authorities are working on an emergency authorisation, after the pharmaceutical company first apply for use in the country in December 2020. At the time, it was blocked by local health authorities, pending additional investigation. Some suspect that this was done to benefit Indian manufactures linked to AstraZeneca.

Failure to deliver vaccines is only one aspect of India's health catastrophe. “India has one of the lowest public healthcare budgets globally, with the public healthcare system receiving only 1.26 per cent of the total GDP,” said Dr Zari Udwadia, a physician in Mumbai.

“This pandemic has cruelly exposed our weakest links,” he added. We must remember not everyone died of Covid. Thousands died because we failed them with lack of basic health infrastructure like hospital beds, oxygen, etc. and the apathy of our system.

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