Virus deaths top 4,000 in India as WHO green-lights Chinese vaccine

NEW DELHI (AFP) – New Covid-19 deaths surged past 4,000 for the first time in India yesterday as it struggled with one of the world’s worst outbreaks, but the global immunisation effort was boosted with World Health Organization (WHO) approval for Chinese firm Sinopharm’s vaccine.

And while many Western countries have started easing restrictions thanks to rapid vaccinations, the head of the WHO warned that more countries could suffer the kind of deadly outbreaks currently raging in India, Brazil and Nepal.

India now accounts for nearly half of the world’s new known cases according to an AFP database, and it reported a national record 4,187 new deaths yesterday.

The Indian government has struggled to contain the outbreak, which has overwhelmed its healthcare system and sparked anger and frustration among the public.

“The government says that there is ample supply of medicines and oxygen,” said Brijesh Pandey, who spends hours every day jostling with others to try to secure oxygen for his brother-in-law.

Indians register themselves to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a medical college in Prayagraj, India. PHOTO: AP

“But look how hundreds of desperate people are struggling to save their brothers, sisters and parents.”

India reported more than 400,000 new infections yesterday, but many experts suspect the official death and case numbers are a gross underestimate.

The surge has spilled into next-door Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Its eastern neighbour Pakistan yesterday began a nine-day shutdown targetting travel and tourist hot spots to try to stop its outbreak from snowballing during the upcoming Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations marking the end of the holy month of Ramadhan.

The holidays usually see a mass movement of people across the nation of 220 million, and the government has mobilised the military to help enforce the restrictions.

But mosques, which have been packed each night throughout Ramadhan, will remain open despite the virus threat.

The global arsenal against the coronavirus expanded on Friday as the vaccine from China’s Sinopharm became the first fully non-Western shot to get the green light from the WHO.

The WHO has already given emergency use authorisation to vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, a status that paves the way for countries to quickly approve and import shots.