COVID-19 spreads to rural India, villages ill-equipped to fight it

International

New Delhi, 7 May: Hopes that India’s rampaging second wave of COVID-19 is peaking were set back on Thursday as record daily infections and deaths were reported and as the virus spread from cities to villages that were poorly equipped to cope.

Government modelling had forecast a peak by Wednesday in infections that have overwhelmed the healthcare system, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen.

A record 412,262 new cases and 3,980 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, taking total infections past 21 million and the overall death toll to 230,168, Health Ministry data showed.

"This temporarily halts speculations of a peak," Rijo M John, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in the southern state of Kerala, said on Twitter.

While the capital New Delhi and several other cities have been hardest hit so far, limited public healthcare, including a dearth of testing facilities, means the threat is grave in rural areas that are home to nearly 70% of the 1.3 billion population.

In the town of Susner in Madhya Pradesh state, patients were being treated outdoors under trees, on blankets on the ground.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement that he would support waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Such a waiver would make vaccines more widely available, although it could take months for the World Trade Organization to hammer out any deal.

While India is the world's biggest vaccine maker, it is struggling to produce enough doses. Its two current vaccine producers will take two months or more to boost monthly output to more than 110 million doses from 70 million-80 million.

At a meeting with his top officials on Thursday, Modi stressed that Indian states must keep up vaccination rates and that healthcare workers involved in the inoculation campaign must not be diverted to other tasks, the government said.

Although the country has administered at least 157 million vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply in recent days.

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