A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past graffiti amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on a street in Mumbai, India, March 30, 2021.
Francis Mascarenias Reuters
The second wave of Covid-19 infections in India shows no signs of slowing down as the country’s overcrowded health care system faces a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, drugs and vaccines.
The World Health Organization said last week that every three new cases of coronavirus worldwide are reported in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi̵
Cases in the second wave began to rise in February, when India reported an average of about 10,000 infections a day. But the situation progressively worsened in April, ending the month, repeatedly setting new global records for everyday cases. India began in May with more than 400,000 new cases.
Nearly 7 million cases were reported during the month, a huge proportion of India’s over 19 million were reported during the entire pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The researchers say the jump in cases is due in part to variants of the coronavirus currently circulating in India.
“There are at least two important dominant options, one a UK option, the other an Indian option,” Manoj Murhekar, director of the National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, told CNBC on Friday.
According to the Indian government, it said last month that 80% of the cases in Punjab were due to the highly contagious variant in the UK, known as B.1.1.7.
Meanwhile, the Indian variant is known as B.1.617 and has multiple sublines with slightly different characteristic mutations. The WHO has classified it as an option of interest in its epidemiological update on last week’s pandemic.
Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, is the worst-hit country and also the epicenter of the second wave.
India’s richest country came to an end in mid-April to break the transmission chain. The Maharashtra state government reportedly extended the restrictions until May 15th.
Murhekar told CNBC that very little is currently known about what proportion of infected cases is due to the option. He said India needs to step up its monitoring of options so that there is meaningful data from each region and country for which options are circulating in each.
Since launching its mass inoculation campaign in January, India has administered more than 154 million doses of vaccine as of April 30, according to government figures.
This means that just over 10% of the population received at least one of the two required shots. But the percentage of people who have completed their vaccinations is only about 2% of the total population, up from 27.9 million in April.
Since May, India has opened vaccinations for people aged 18 and over.
Murhekar said the kind of herd immunity that India needs to reduce can only be achieved through vaccination.
“It will take many days and many months to get a critical mass that has been vaccinated against Covid,” he added.
But the country is facing a shortage of vaccines, and several countries have reportedly been exhausted.
The supply crisis is expected to continue until July, according to the CEO of India’s leading vaccine manufacturer, Serum Institute, which produces the AstraZeneca shot. Adar Poonavala recently told the Financial Times that his company is ready to increase vaccine production capacity from about 60 million to 70 million doses per month to 100 million.
The other vaccine that is given is Covaxin by Bharat Biotech.
New Delhi recently approved Russian-developed Sputnik V and authorized foreign-made vaccines that received urgent approval from the United States, Britain, the European Union, Japan and agencies listed by the World Health Organization.
– Nate Ratner of CNBC contributed to this report.