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India Covid disaster: Demise toll exceeds 200,000

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is taken to a COVID-19 hospital for treatment while coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads in Ahmedabad, India on April 26, 2021.

Amit Dave | Reuters

India reported a record daily death toll on Wednesday when the total number of Covid-19 deaths topped the 200,000 mark.

Government data showed that at least 3,293 people died within 24 hours. The total number of cases also rose by a record 360,960 reported infections. This was India’s seventh day in a row with over 300,000 new infections.

The total number of Covid cases in the country is just under 18 million while the death toll stands at 201,187. However, recent media reports suggest that the daily death toll may not be adequately reported.

In April alone, the South Asian nation reported more than 5.8 million new cases, marginalizing the country’s healthcare system.

The international community responded with a promise to send urgently needed aid to India. The United States said it would send raw materials that the South Asian country needs to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

India has so far given more than 145 million doses of vaccine, according to the Ministry of Health. However, as of Tuesday, only around 23.9 million people had received their second dose.

India’s variant of Covid?

Experts fear that a mutated variant of the coronavirus is responsible for the dramatic increase in cases during the second wave. Before the resurgence, India reported an average of around 10,000 new cases per day.

The virus has mutated several times since last year. The World Health Organization classifies these variants either as “variant of interest” or as “variant of concern”. The affected variant typically refers to a variant that shows an increase in communicability and more severe illness, including a higher rate of hospitalizations or deaths.

The WHO classified the B1617 variant with several sublines with slightly different characteristic mutations as an interesting variant for their weekly epidemiological update of the pandemic. It was first spotted in India last October, but was represented in at least 17 countries as of Tuesday, including the US, UK and Singapore.

The international health agency said in its report that the B1617 variant is circulating in India along with other worrisome variants as well as the B1618 variant discovered in some states. The WHO said these variants may collectively play a role in the current resuscitation.

Effects

The Indian government is increasingly criticized for gathering large crowds, mostly without masks, for religious festivals and election campaigns in different parts of the country.

The better-than-expected handling of the first wave last year created a feeling of complacency within the political class, and subsequent questionable decisions contributed to the rise, according to Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst with political risk advisory firm Eurasia Group.

Among those decisions, Bery noted that the government had allowed the week-long Kumbh Mela religious festival, which reportedly saw hundreds of thousands of people taking a bath in the Ganges. This has become a super-spreader event, as have electoral campaigns by various parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party in the eastern state of West Bengal.

“There have been some questionable decisions here and this is a major political challenge for Modi, at least in the short term,” Bery said on CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia on Wednesday.

“During last year’s boom, there was a general expectation that the Indian health system would collapse. Ultimately, it did not,” he said, adding, “This created a feeling of complacency within the political class, within the people … But ultimately that complacency fed into that mentality, and now we’re seeing the end results of that. “

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