India COVID Cases Soar Past 20 Million

Grappling with the pandemic.
Photo/s: Sajjad Hussain/AFP
NEW DELHI -- India's coronavirus caseload topped 20 million on Tuesday as it struggled to contain a huge outbreak, in stark contrast to gradual reopenings in the United States and Europe.

Rapid immunization programs in wealthier nations have helped suppress outbreaks, and the European Union was even looking at allowing vaccinated foreign tourists into the bloc as early as next month.

That was a far cry from the nations still grappling with outbreaks, including India where more than 350,000 new cases were reported Tuesday as a devastating wave of infections overwhelmed hospitals and depleted critical resources such as medical oxygen.

With the government struggling, some young Indian volunteers have set up apps to crowdsource aid and are using social media to direct resources to people in need.

"Some of us do midnight to morning shifts because the calls don't stop at 3 a.m.," said Swadha Prasad, 17, who works long hours updating information, verifying the availability of supplies, and fielding calls from frantic relatives seeking help.

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"We work very hard but we can't save everyone," said Prasad, her voice quavering as she recalled efforts to help an 80-year-old woman who died.

The number of new cases has declined in recent days, however, having peaked at 402,000 on Friday.


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The South Asian nation's plight has highlighted the threat still posed by the pandemic, which has already claimed more than 3.2 million lives worldwide.

Rickshaw driver Mohammad Javed Khan in the central Indian city of Bhopal turned his vehicle into a makeshift ambulance after he saw people carrying patients to hospitals on their backs as they were too poor to afford one.

"Even when (people) call ambulances, the ambulances are charging 5,000-10,000 rupees ($70-140)," said Khan, who sold his wife's jewellery to equip the rickshaw with medical equipment.

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"How will a poor person be able to afford it? Especially during this pandemic when most people don't have an income?"

EU eyes travel resumption

The leaders of Europe, meanwhile, were looking to take further steps towards recovery with a proposal to revive international travel and tourism as early as next month.

The European Commission proposed Monday that travellers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved shots -- Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca -- should be allowed to enter the bloc if they are coming from countries where COVID-19 is under control.

Among the European governments hoping for a post-pandemic tourism boom is Greece, which has reopened outdoor dining after six months of closures.

On Monday, the outdoor terraces in the trendy Kolonaki district of Athens filled up with customers.

"I haven't worked in six months," said Yannis Karagiannakis, a waiter. "I was going around in circles, was depressed."

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But in a sign that the pandemic is not yet over in Europe, Germany cancelled its world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival for a second year running.

Americans are among those eyeing possible European vacations this summer, with more than 100 million people in the United States now fully vaccinated and U.S. media reporting that authorities were expected to authorize the Pfizer shot for children aged 12 and up.

The successful drive has allowed authorities in many parts of the world's biggest economy to start relaxing curbs, including New York and Florida.


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WHO plea to G7

But in hard-hit Brazil, vaccine shortages have forced several large cities to suspend administering second doses of the Chinese-developed CoronaVac shot.

COVID-19 has claimed more than 400,000 lives in Brazil -- second only to the United States.

Warning about the global inequality in access to COVID-19 supplies, the WHO said Monday that rich countries must step up their funding for vaccines, tests and treatments in poorer nations if the pandemic is to be brought to an end.

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"We will only solve the vaccine crisis with the leadership of these countries," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, urging decisive action at the G7 summit in June.

Nearly 1.2 billion doses have so far been injected worldwide, according to an AFP count, but just 0.2% of them have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries.


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