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COVID-19 in India – what’s going on?

COVID-19 cases in India are surging. Yesterday a shocking number of 275,000 new daily cases and 1,620 deaths were reported. This deadly second wave in the country has put a strain on health infrastructure and resources. Let’s deep dive into what’s going on. 

Understandably, there’s complaints on healthcare availability 

To give context on how bad the situation is, New Delhi is a heavily populated city with 20 million people, however, at the time of writing, less than 100 critical care beds are available in the city, along with a lack of overall hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs to assist with the surging cases. 

The city has begun setting up beds in schools in the meantime. 

People have taken to Twitter to get help for their family and friends, posting their phone numbers and desperate calls for help. One user Tweeted “A close friend’s mother urgently needs Remdesivir at Max Hospital, Saket, in New Delhi. She has a prescription but they’re out of doses. I’d appreciate any leads. DM if you have any.”

The issue of vaccines

India is the world supplier of vaccines, producing more than 60% of all vaccines sold globally. As India hosts the largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India (SII), it signed on as a major part of COVAX, an initiative that assists lower income countries to receive free or discounted vaccines. India has also donated a number of vaccines as well. 

But as the second wave surges, so does India’s vaccine urgency. There has since been a shift in priority, with vaccine supply in India now being focused on citizens, rather than COVAX. This is not the first delay in supplying vaccines to COVAX and has hit countries relying on these supplies hard. 

There has also been increasing tension between state and federal officials on the availability of vaccines and the rollout. The Health Ministry’s Secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, insisted that vaccine supply was not the issue, but rather poor management and planning, however local and state leaders disagreed. Only 14.3 million people have been fully vaccinated — just over one per cent of India’s population of 1.3 billion, according to Johns Hopkins University, while several vaccination centres had to close after supply shortages. 

One of the contributing factors to the vaccine shortage in India is the disruption of the supply chain. With both the U.S. and Europe banning and tightening exports, India has had to look to other countries like Singapore for materials to produce the vaccine. 

Export introduction 

After increasing pressure, the Indian Federal Government announced the green light for vaccine imports, and fast-tracking emergency approvals for vaccines already approved by the World Health Organisation or authorities in the U.S, Europe, Britain and Japan. However, foreign vaccine imports will not be the short term solution according to former Indian Council of Medical Research Director General Nirmal Kumar Ganguly. “By the time they build up manufacturing capacities and manufacturing requirements, it will be five to six months,” Ganguly said. 

In the short term, India is looking to further push local vaccine production capacity. A State-run biomedical institute has been given the go-ahead to manufacture the Covaxin vaccine (not to be confused with the COVAX initiative) through a transfer of technology with vaccine manufacturer Bharat Biotech.

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