India accounted for 46% of global COVID-19 cases last week, WHO says

India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, as the country's deaths rose by a new high of 3,780 during the last 24 hours.

Vaccines in short supply, hospitals and patients scrambling to find oxygen

A man carries an oxygen cylinder as he arrives to refill it for a COVID-19 patient at a refilling centre in New Delhi. India is dealing with a major uptick in cases that is overwhelming health systems. (Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, as the country's deaths rose by a new high of 3,780 during the last 24 hours.

In a weekly report, the WHO said India accounted for 46 per cent of global cases and 25 per cent of global deaths reported in the past week.

Daily infections rose by 382,315 on Wednesday for a 14th straight day of infections in excess of 300,000, health ministry data showed.

Hospitals are scrabbling for beds and oxygen as they desperately battle a second deadly surge of infections, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to deal with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies.

Many people have died in ambulances and car parks waiting for a bed or oxygen.

Workers monitor as a tanker gets refilled with medical oxygen for hospitals and medical facilities treating COVID-19 patients. Oxygen, critical for treatment of people with COVID-19, has been in short supply in India. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been widely criticized for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, as religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in super-spreader events.

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"We need a government. Desperately. And we don't have one. We are running out of air. We are dying," the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy wrote in an opinion piece that called for Modi to step down.

"This is a crisis of your making," she said in the article published on Tuesday. "You cannot solve it. You can only make it worse.... So please go. It is the most responsible thing for you to do. You have forfeited the moral right to be our prime minister."

India's delegation to the Group of Seven foreign ministers' meeting in London is self-isolating after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19, Britain said on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is in London, said in a Twitter message that he would attend virtually. Broadcaster Sky News said Jaishankar did not test positive for the virus, however.

Nepal sees surge in cases

Neighbouring Nepal is being overwhelmed by a surge of infections as India's outbreak spreads across South Asia, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

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With 57 times as many cases as a month ago, Nepal is seeing 44 per cent of tests come back positive, it said. Towns near the border with India are unable to cope with the growing numbers seeking treatment, while just one per cent of its population is fully vaccinated.

Medical experts say India's actual figures could be five to 10 times the official tallies, however. The country has added 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach its first 10 million.

Two "oxygen express" trains carrying the life-saving gas in liquid form arrived in the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter. More than 25 trains have distributed oxygen supplies nationwide.

The government says supplies of the gas are sufficient but transport woes have hindered distribution.

Drop in vaccination, testing

India's surge in infections has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations because of supply and delivery problems.

At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, have reported a scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.

Daily testing has fallen sharply to 1.5 million, the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research said on Wednesday, off a peak of 1.95 million on Saturday.

The opposition has urged a nationwide lockdown, but the government is reluctant to impose one for fear of the economic fallout, although several states have adopted social curbs.

A health worker inoculates a man with a dose of the Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine in a school-turned-vaccination centre in New Delhi on Wednesday. Vaccine supply has become an issue as the country tries to ramp up its rollout. (Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

The central bank asked banks on Wednesday to allow more time for some borrowers to repay, as the infection surge threatens a nascent economic revival.

In the remote state of Mizoram bordering Myanmar, beds in its biggest coronavirus hospital are in such short supply that all victims of other diseases have been asked to leave, said government official Dr. Z R Thiamsanga.

Just three of a total 14 ventilators are still available.

"In my opinion, a complete lockdown is required to control the situation," he told Reuters from the state capital, Aizawl.

Public health experts believe India will not reach herd immunity any time soon, though hospitalizations and deaths will fall off within six to nine months, the Economic Times newspaper said.

Herd immunity is reached when a sufficiently large share of the population has been vaccinated or infected, generating antibodies, so that an infected person can theoretically infect fewer than one other person, putting a halt to the virus's spread.

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