BANGALORE • Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has called for a nationwide lockdown as the country's coronavirus infections surged past 20 million yesterday, making it the second nation after the US to cross the grim milestone.
India's deadly second wave, the world's biggest surge in coronavirus infections, has seen it take just over four months to add 10 million cases, versus more than 10 months for its first 10 million.
The country has 3.45 million active cases. Yesterday, it reported 357,229 new cases over a 24-hour period, while deaths rose by 3,449 for a toll of 222,408, Health Ministry data showed.
Medical experts say actual numbers in India could be five to 10 times higher than reported.
"The only way to stop the spread of corona now is a full lockdown... GOI's inaction is killing many innocent people," Congress MP Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to the Government of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown due to the economic fallout, yet several states have put in place various social restrictions. The surge in cases of the highly infectious Indian variant of Covid-19 has swamped the health system, drained supplies of medical oxygen vital for the survival for those infected, and seen patients dying in ambulances and carparks outside hospitals.
Rows of funeral pyres in outdoor areas and carparks are cremating the overflow of corpses. India has postponed exams for trainee doctors and nurses in a desperate bid to fight the infections sweeping across the country.
Mr Modi has been criticised for not moving sooner to limit the latest wave of infections and for letting millions of unmasked people attend religious festivals and political rallies in March and April. "What the recent weeks reveal is that both the Centre and states have been woefully unprepared for the second wave," a Times of India editorial said yesterday.
Offering a glimmer of hope, the Health Ministry said positive cases relative to the number of tests fell on Monday for the first time since at least April 15. Coronavirus cases in some regions were plateauing, a federal Health Ministry official said, adding that some states, including Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, had seen a dip in numbers.
Models done by government advisers show cases could peak today, earlier than expected, as the virus has spread faster than expected. The surge in India has coincided with a dramatic fall in vaccinations, due to problems with supplies and delivery.
Despite being the world's biggest producer of vaccines, India does not have enough for itself. Public forecasts by its only two vaccine producers show their total monthly output of 70 million to 80 million doses would increase only in two months or more, although the number of people eligible for vaccines has doubled to an estimated 800 million since May 1.
Just 9.5 per cent of the population of 1.35 billion has received at least a single dose. India has invited Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna to sell it their vaccines, but none have applied yet. Pfizer has told the government there was no concern over vaccine safety even as India insists on local trials, despite a record surge in infections and shortage of doses.
International aid continued to arrive in India yesterday, with 545 oxygen concentrators from the United States landing, the fifth in a series of consignments carrying medical equipment.