Pandemic aid begins to arrive in Covid-stricken India following record case numbers

Pandemic aid begins to arrive in Covid-stricken India following record case numbers
The first emergency medical supplies arrived in India on Tuesday as part of a global campaign to staunch a catastrophic wave in the latest pandemic hotspot.
4 min read
India suffered record numbers of covid cases this month [Getty]

The first emergency medical supplies arrived in India on Tuesday as part of a global campaign to staunch a catastrophic wave in the latest pandemic hotspot, with the United States also pledging to export millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

Crates of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain were unloaded at a Delhi airport early Tuesday, the first emergency medical supplies to arrive in the country where infection and death rates are growing exponentially.

The explosion in infections in India -- 350,000 new cases were recorded there on Tuesday alone -- has driven a surge in global cases to 147.7 million and the virus has now killed more than 3.1 million people worldwide.

In New Delhi, AFP images showed smoke billowing from dozens of pyres lit inside a parking lot that has been turned into a makeshift crematorium.

"People are just dying, dying and dying," said Jitender Singh Shanty, who is coordinating the cremation of around 100 bodies a day at the site in the east of the city.

"If we get more bodies then we will cremate on the road. There is no more space here."

Despite India's status as the "pharmacy of the world", the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir.

Many doctors say remdesivir is not essential for the treatment of Covid-19, but hospitals have been prescribing it anyway.

"This government has failed us so much that those who can normally survive also die," said one exhausted man, Vinod Kumar, as he waited in line for medication.

'We'll be there for them'

The United States, France, Germany, Canada, the EU and the World Health Organization have all promised to rush supplies to India.

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced the United States would send up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine abroad.

While Washington has not decided yet which countries will be the recipients, India appears to be a leading contender after Biden spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"India was there for us, and we will be there for them," Biden tweeted after the call with Modi, referencing India's support for the United States when it was enduring the worst of its Covid crisis.

France also said it would send eight oxygen production units, as well as oxygen containers and respirators, to India.

And the EU said the first shipment of aid from the bloc's member states to India would be delivered "over the coming days", with more expected to follow.

The initial assistance included 365 ventilators and 700 oxygen concentrators from Ireland, 120 ventilators from Sweden, 58 ventilators from Luxembourg, 80 oxygen concentrators from Romania, and thousands of doses of Remdesivir from Belgium and Portugal.

At the same time, many countries are shutting their borders to travellers from India.

Belgium became the latest, also banning travel from Brazil and South Africa, similarly hit by fast-spreading coronavirus variants.

Spain said it will impose a 10-day quarantine on all travellers arriving from India from Wednesday.

Australia has also cut all passenger air travel with India, suspending flights until at least May 15, leaving a host of high-profile cricketers stuck there after playing in the lucrative Indian Premier League, which attracted criticism for continuing during the crisis.

In Fiji, an outbreak of the Indian variant has forced the capital into lockdown after the island nation had avoided infections for a year, with health officials saying they fear a "tsunami" of cases.

Germany hikes forecasts

While there are still no signs of the pandemic abating globally, some western countries are nevertheless tentatively starting to ease lockdowns that have strangled their economies for more than a year as their inoculation campaigns gather momentum.

Italy -- the first European country to be hit by the pandemic in early 2020 and still one of the worst affected -- reopened its bars, restaurants, cinemas and concert halls on Monday.

Italy's lower chamber of parliament overwhelmingly approved the government's 222.1-billion-euro ($270-billion) EU-funded pandemic recovery plan just days before the deadline to submit it to Brussels.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, upgraded its growth forecast for 2021 to 3.5 percent from 3.0 percent previously as vaccinations finally begin to gather pace.

"This is the year when we will really see a trend reversal," said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

But in the sports and entertainment sectors, the pandemic continues to take its toll.

Audience figures for this year's Oscars plummeted by more than half to a record low of 9.85 million viewers, broadcaster ABC said.

In Japan, officials and organisers insist the Olympic Games will go ahead in three months' time, despite a new virus state of emergency in Tokyo and several other regions.

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