The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India continued to spread fast, crossing the grim benchmark of 2 lakh daily infections in the week of 12-18 April giving the country the unenviable distinction of having the highest number of daily cases in the world, surpassing Brazil.
On Tuesday alone the country recorded 2,59,170 coronavirus infections taking the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,53,21,089.
Maharashtra, which for long has been the epicentre in terms of coronavirus cases, has of late seen a steep fall in new caseloads. While Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have seen a significant increase in the week to 18 April, Maharashtra's share has come down to 28.2 percent in the week to 18 April from 42.3 percent in the week to 11 April.
The Uttar Pradesh government, in a first, announced free vaccination for all state residents above the age of 18.
Several prominent personalities also tested positive amid the second wave, including Union Minister Jitendra Singh, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and veteran Congress leader Anand Sharma. Nepal's former King Gyanendra Shah and former Queen Komal Shah have tested positive for the coronavirus on their return from India after participating in the Maha Kumbh at Haridwar.
Looking at the worsening situation in India, the US has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to India, even if they are fully vaccinated as there is a 'very high level' of COVID-19 in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) on Monday released travel recommendations by destination.
It uses science-based Travel Health Notices to alert travellers to health threats around the world and advise on how to protect themselves. The CDC has a 4-level system for COVID-19 and in that India is placed in 'Level 4: Very high level of COVID-19'.
PM rules out lockdown, emphasises COVID-appropriate behaviour
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on the COVID situation in the country and asserted that the government was not considering to put any further lockdowns, unlike last year when a crushing shut down had left businesses drained and the economy with negative growth indices.
Modi also urged the state governments who have currently resorted to such curbs to consider lifting restrictions and instead focussing on micro-containment zones. He said that lockdowns should only be used as a last resort.
The prime minister also requested state governments to instil trust in migrant workers who are travelling homewards once again as states have been imposing curbs. Modi said that states should assure the workers that employment avenues will open soon and all facilities will be provided to them in the host states.
Ten states, including Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, account for 77.67 percent of the new COVID-19 infections reported in a day, the Union health ministry said on Tuesday. The daily COVID-19 positivity rate (7 day moving average) continues to show an upward trend and currently stands at 15.99 percent, it said.
Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan are among the other states in the list of 10.
India's daily new cases are showing a rising trend and a total 2,59,170 new cases were registered in a span of 24 hours. Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 58,924. It is followed by Uttar Pradesh with 28,211 while Delhi reported 23,686 new cases.
India's total active caseload has reached 20,31,977 and now comprises 13.26 percent of the country's total infections. A net increase of 1,02,648 cases recorded in the total active caseload in a day.
Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala cumulatively account for 62.07 percent of India's total active cases. "The daily positivity rate (7 day moving average) continues to show an upward trend, currently stands at 15.99 percent.
India's cumulative recoveries have surged to1,31,08,582 with1,54,761 recoveries being registered in a span of 24 hours. The National Mortality Rate has been falling and currently stands at 1.18 percent, the ministry said. It said that1,761 deaths were reported in a span of 24 hours.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed 13 crore as part of the world's largest vaccination drive, the ministry said in the afternoon.
Several states turn to curfews, curbs as cases surge
The >Uttar Pradesh government on Tuesday decided to impose a weekend curfew from Friday evening to Monday morning in the entire state till further orders amid the rising cases of coronavirus infections. The government also decided to keep all non-essential activities suspended in all districts of the state having 500 or more active cases. It also decided to continue with the night-long curfew on weekdays throughout the state, a senior official said.
The move by the UP government comes hours after the Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed an Allahabad High Court order asking the state government to impose strict restrictions till April 26 in five cities amid the surge in Covid-19 cases.
The >Maharashtra government, meanwhile, continued to drop hints of a "strict lockdown" to curb the coronavirus pandemic but stopped short of making an announcement. A senior minister said that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to make an announcement in this regard on Wednesday. Maharashtra has been reporting over 50,000 coronavirus cases every day in the last two weeks but people are still flouting the existing restrictions on movement and gatherings, the ministers said. The state cabinet also decided to cancel class 10 exam.
Earlier in the day, the Maharashtra government had said that grocery and food shops will remain open only between 7 am to 11 am till 1 May, to discourage people from venturing out for non-essential chores.
Assam government ordered to shut all markets and shops by 6 pm and permitted 50 percent of non-officer staff to work from home in the districts where there are 100 active cases or more. At present, 13 out of 33 districts in Assam have 100 or more active positive cases, a National Health Mission spokesperson said. The order further said that gatherings in open spaces have been capped at 50 per cent or 400 persons, whichever is lower, while it will be 50 percent in closed venues.
Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the >Chandigarh administration also announced a one-day lockdown in the city on Ram Navami on Wednesday. The decision was taken by UT Chandigarh Administrator VP Singh Badnore, said an official spokesperson. The Punjab government on Monday had announced to clamp lockdown in Mohali on Wednesday to avoid gathering of people.
The >Jammu and Kashmir administration extended the ongoing night curfew to all municipal and urban local body limits from 10 pm to 6 am in view of the spike in COVID-19 cases. It was already in force in eight districts earlier, from 10 pm to 6 am. It also implemented an odd-even formula for the opening of only 50 percent of shops on a given day in the Union Territories' markets and bazaar.
A seven-day lockdown has come into force from Tuesday in Aizawl and 10 other district headquarters of >Mizoram to contain the spread of COVID-19. Though the state government order issued on Monday night did not use the word "lockdown", it said no resident in Aizawl municipal area and 10 other district headquarters should step out of their homes during the restriction period, which will remain effective from 4 am on 20 April to 4 am on 26 April.
However, inter-village or intra-state movement is allowed with permission from the village or local-level task forces, it said. The existing night curfew from 8.30 pm to 4 am in Aizawl and the 10 other district headquarters will be enforced more strictly.
Meanwhile, a Crisil India report stated that such instances of localised lockdowns were already harming the economic scenario as with even limited restrictions on people's movement and some businesses, power consumption and e-way GST bill collections are already down.
What proves to be a saving grace is that manufacturing and construction activities are operating, and travel and recreation services are also allowed in most states with social distancing measures.
But a greater concern is the stuttering pace of vaccinations as the number of people vaccinated per million daily was lower at 2,408 for the week to 18 April compared to 2,554 in the week to 11 April.
As a result as of 18 April, only 16.4 percent of population in 45-65 age-group is vaccinated, and those in the 65 and above age bracket, as much as 33.1 percent are inoculated, said the report.
The impact of these restrictions, though, is beginning to affect retail mobility, which dipped across more states, with the highest drop in Maharashtra at 17.7 percentage points decline between March and 18 April on average.
Delhi, Maharashtra struggle with oxygen supply
A severe shortage of oxygen supply in states like Maharashtra and Delhi painted a scary picture as overburdened hospitals reported they might run out of supply within the next few hours. Oxygen support is almost a necessity for moderate to critical patients of COVID-19 will asymptomatic and mildly-ill patients follow medication at home.
To manage the shortfall, Delhi on one hand sent an SOS to Centre and also considered increasing beds at hospitals that had their own oxygen generation plants. Maharashtra, on the other hand, looked at rationalising use and ramping up production capacity within state.
Both Delhi and Maharashtra have been battling the worst of India's second wave with Delhi reporting over 25,000 cases in a single day while Maharashtra has been reporting over 50,000 new cases every day in the last two weeks.
The >Delhi chief minister and deputy chief minister Tuesday sent out SOS messages to the centre predicting a doomsday-like situation if the oxygen supply to the National Capital Territory was not amplified.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the Centre "with folded hands" to provide medical oxygen to Delhi, saying some hospitals are going to run out of it in a few hours.
Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said they have just eight hours of oxygen left. The hospital has 485 COVID beds, of which 475 are occupied. Around 120 patients are currently in the ICU. Its chairman DS Rana said, "6,000 cubic meters of it is left, which at the rate of current consumption will last till 1 am. Need urgent replenishment."
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Tuesday said the Centre should be "sensitive and active" in handling the situation so that there is no clamour among states over its supply.
Sisodia, who is also the nodal minister for COVID-19 management in the National Capital, said he is getting SOS calls on oxygen shortage from all hospitals. He also alleged that people involved in supplying oxygen are being stopped in different states.
Earlier in the day, Delhi High Court had also taken a stern view on the Centre's inability to remove bottlenecks and redirect oxygen supply from industries.
In Maharashtra, acknowledging the crunch in oxygen supply, the health minister said the state was "managing with 1,550 metric tonnes of oxygen" per day at present. "The state has been allowed to get 300 MT of oxygen from other states. The Centre can allot us another 300 MT, but we can not get more than 2,000 MT, overall," Tope said.
"Using oxygen generators is the only option we have. A couple of tenders have been floated already for the purchase of oxygen generators. We have asked district collectors to consider those rates as base point and issue purchase orders," Tope added.
"Every district should have such plants. The cabinet has approved it," he said. There are six thermal power plants in the state which also generate oxygen but it needs to be liquefied for transportation and supply to hospitals, Tope said. These plants will now have a dedicated bottling plant and the oxygen will be supplied to nearby hospitals, he said.
The cabinet also decided to purchase a minimum of 200 oxygen concentrator machines for each of 36 districts, he informed. PWD minister Eknath Shinde said oxygen-carrying tankers will be given the status of ambulance to facilitate their smooth and speedy movement.
Centre waives import duty on Remdesivir, its APIs
Amid surging COVID-19 cases in the country, the government on Tuesday waived customs duty on Remdesivir, its raw materials and other components used to make the antiviral drug. The move would help augment domestic availability and reduce cost of the injection. Remdesivir is being used in the treatment of coronavirus.
The items on which the duty has been waived include Remdesivir active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), injection Remdesivir, and beta Cyclodextrin used in manufacture of Remdesivir. This import duty exemption would remain in force till 31 October this year.
J&J seeks permission for clinical trial in India
Global healthcare major Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it has sought approval from India's drug regulator to conduct a bridging clinical trial of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) had in February approved Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine that works with just one dose for emergency use.
This comes close on the heels of the central government last week deciding to fast-track emergency approvals for all foreign-produced coronavirus jabs that have been given a similar nod by the World Health Organization or regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain or Japan. Such vaccines will be given emergency use approval mandating the requirement of post-approval parallel bridging clinical trial in place of conduct of local clinical trial under the provisions of the New Drugs and Clinical Trials Rules 2019, the health ministry had said.
So far, two vaccines -- one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and the other developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research - National Institute of Virology -- are being used in India. Both the vaccines are being manufactured within the country by domestic firms but are apparently falling short of the huge demand as experts raised concern over the stuttering pace of vaccination. The number of people vaccinated per million daily was lower at 2,408 for the week ending 18 April compared to 2,554 in the week ending 11 April, predominantly due to shortage of vaccines.
In the interim till foreign-made vaccines enter the supply chain, the government has also sanctioned a payment of about Rs 4,500 crore to address the issue of shortage and to aide SII and Bharat Biotech ramp up production. SII will supply 200 million doses and Bharat Biotech is to supply another 90 million doses to the government by July at a pre-agreed rate of Rs 150 per dose. Sources said the finance ministry has relaxed rules to allow advance payment without bank guarantee to help the vaccine makers ramp up production. SII will get Rs 3,000 crore in advance and Bharat Biotech about Rs 1,500 crore.
With inputs from PTI