India leads surge in Covid-19 infections across the globe

Global coronavirus infections continued to trend sharply upwards, led by the world’s worst outbreak in India, which has posted alarming new records in fresh cases almost every day over the past week.

The total number of Covid-19 cases around the world stands at more than 152 million, and deaths at nearly 3.2 million, as countries grapple with resurgent waves of more infectious virus variants amid slower-than-ideal vaccination roll-outs.

People, tiring of the prolonged restrictions and confused by the constantly changing rules, are now more than ever flouting the restrictions meant to keep them safe.

India’s daily Covid-19 cases dipped slightly yesterday to 392,488, a day after it became the first country to cross the 400,000 mark in new infections. But daily deaths jumped to a record 3,689, as its overwhelmed healthcare system struggled on with severe shortages of beds, oxygen and other medical supplies.

India’s capital New Delhi, one of the worst-hit areas, extended its lockdown by a week on Saturday.

The United States’ top pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci has said the whole of India should go under lockdown to stem the raging infections, but the country has so far resisted doing so at a national level.

More international aid arrived in India yesterday, as nations increasingly recognise that helping the South Asian giant is key to bringing the pandemic under control.

India has received its first doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The country expanded its inoculation campaign to all adults on Saturday, but many states are facing shortages despite an export freeze on locally made shots.

Snaking queues were seen at vaccination centres across Indian cities. “It is a necessity now. We are seeing so many people testing positive,” said Ms Megha Srivastava, 35, at one such centre in New Delhi.

India’s neighbours are also sounding the alarm bells.

Sri Lanka’s daily cases hit a new record for the fifth straight day on Saturday. “We could face an India-type crisis very soon unless we arrest the current trend of infections,” the country’s chief epidemiologist Sudath Samaraweera said.

In Nepal, too, officials warned that new infections were rising faster than overwhelmed health facilities could record them. More than a third of tests return positive. The country on Friday posted the most new cases since October.

Malaysia yesterday reported its first case of India’s highly infectious B1617 virus variant in an Indian national who recently arrived in Kuala Lumpur. The country has seen a spike in infections over the past fortnight.

Japan’s health experts are pessimistic about the odds of containing its latest surge in cases despite its third state of emergency.

Business closures have been limited, and millions of Japanese, having grown indifferent to more than a year of virus guidelines, have even taken the risk to travel.

In South Korea, officials are bracing themselves for more new cases as people increase interactions and make plans for major holidays this month.

It saw a fourth straight day of new infections in the 600s yesterday, with nearly half from outside the greater Seoul area, suggesting that the virus has been spreading across the country. It has extended social distancing rules by another three weeks until May 23.

Beyond Asia, fresh waves of Covid-19 infections have also shaken countries in the Americas.

Coronavirus deaths in Brazil crossed 400,000 on Friday, with its hospitals on the brink of collapse. It has reported the second most number of Covid-19 fatalities after the US, which has recorded over 570,000 deaths.

In Canada, the epicentre is in its most populous province Ontario, where the surge has been so intense that the government sent in the military and the Red Cross to help care for critically ill patients.

Many health professionals and caregivers are also frustrated with citizens who have not followed precautions. “We all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” said physician Jamie Spiegelman.

Despite the virus spike in the country, tens of thousands of people marched in Montreal against restrictions on Saturday, with signs in the crowd expressing opposition to face masks and curfews.

Anti-restriction protesters also gathered in European countries, including Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Germany.

• Additional information from Agence France-Presse

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