India sees record rise in virus cases

NEW DELHI (AP) — India reported a record daily surge in new coronavirus cases for the second time in four days yesterday, while New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities announced they are imposing curfews to try to slow the soaring infections.

The rise of 115,736 coronavirus cases reported in the past 24 hours, tops the 103,844 infections reported last Sunday. Fatalities rose by 630 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November, driving the total death toll in the country to 166,177 since the pandemic began.

The federal government has so far refused to impose a nationwide lockdown to contain the latest surge but has asked states to decide on imposing local restrictions.

“The pandemic isn’t over and there is no scope for complacency,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter. He urged people to get vaccinated.

India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 78,000 cases per day and has reported 12.8 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States (US) and Brazil.

Elderly women wait to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in Bahakajari village in an interior part of Indian northeastern state of Assam, India. PHOTO: AP

While 85 million Indians have received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot, only 11 million of them have received both.

Due to a surge in infections, India has now delayed exports of large quantities of vaccines. It has shipped 64.5 million doses so far.

Experts said the surge, which is worse than last year’s peak in mid-September, is due in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces.

As health officials continue to warn about gatherings in public places, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party leaders continue to hold mammoth rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

While on the campaign trail on Tuesday in West Bengal state, Modi was seen waving at maskless supporters from his car.

His government has also allowed a huge month-long festival that draws tens of thousands of devotees daily to go ahead on the banks of the Ganges River in northern Uttarakhand state.

Meanwhile, South Korea has reported 668 new cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily jump in nearly three months, as concerns grow about another surge and a slow vaccine rollout.

The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency yesterday brought the national caseload to 106,898, including 1,756 deaths. Most of the new cases were in the Seoul area and other major cities.

Officials previously insisted a wait-and-see approach was feasible on South Korea’s vaccine rollout because the nation’s outbreak wasn’t as dire as those in America and Europe. Now, they said they are considering all possible measures to prevent a shortage, and it remains to be seen whether they would consider curbing exports of AstraZeneca shots produced by local firm SK Bioscience.

Elsewhere, facing criticism for a vaccine rollout that’s behind schedule, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison notes his country has faced difficulty in getting promised vaccine doses from Europe.

He said over three million of Australia’s contracted AstraZeneca vaccine doses haven’t yet arrived — but that shouldn’t be taken as him criticising the European Union (EU). “That’s just a simple fact. That’s not a dispute. It’s not a conflict. It’s not an argument. It’s not a clash. It’s just a simple fact. And I’m simply explaining to the Australian public that supply issues is what’s constraining and has constrained, particularly over these recent months, the overall rollout of the vaccine,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

He said he will write again to the EU and AstraZeneca requesting they send the full order of vaccine doses. Morrison said some of the doses will be sent to help its neighbour Papua New Guinea deal with its virus outbreak. In March, Europe stopped about 250,000 vaccines going to Australia due to concerns about European supply shortages.