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3,417 more die as Covid cases in India soar to 20 million

NEW DELHI, India: India has reported more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases for a 12th straight day, taking its overall caseload to just shy of 20 million, while deaths rise by 3,417.

With more than 300,000 daily cases reported for nearly two weeks now, India is battling a ferocious second wave of the coronavirus that has overwhelmed its fragile and underfunded healthcare system.

Hospitals have been filled, medical oxygen supplies have run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped.

The eastern state of Odisha and northern industrial state Haryana became the latest to announce new lockdowns, joining New Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been severely criticised over the handling of the Covid surge, which has pushed India’s already fragile and underfunded health system to the brink.

Massive election rallies organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties as well as a giant Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges may have exacerbated the spread, experts said, adding that new variants could also be increasing cases.

Modi’s party on Sunday suffered a resounding election defeat in a key state, West Bengal, failing to dislodge its firebrand chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. The BJP retained power in northeastern Assam state but lost in two southern states.

While the four states were already stiff election challenges for the BJP apart from the pandemic, analysts say the results weaken Modi’s position as surging infections cripples the health system.

Here’s more from the political front.

Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said his country will suspend from Tuesday the entry of people who have been to India over the previous 14 days.

The virus variant first found in India has reached at least 17 countries, including Britain, Iran and Switzerland, spurring several to close their borders to those travelling from India.

Except for Taiwan citizens, all those who had been in India in the prior 14 days would be kept out, Chen said, with the restriction taking effect at midnight. Returning Taiwanese will have to spend 14 days in centralised quarantine facilities, however.

Earlier, Deputy Economy Minister Chen Chern-chyi said the government was considering whether to send an aircraft to evacuate the 150 Taiwanese businesspeople now in India.

Pfizer is in discussions with the Indian government seeking an “expedited approval pathway” for its Covid-19 vaccine, its CEO Albert Bourla said on LinkedIn, announcing a donation of medicines worth more than $70 million, news agencies reported.

“Unfortunately, our vaccine is not registered in India although our application was submitted months ago,” he said.

“We are currently discussing with the Indian government an expedited approval pathway to make our Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available for use in the country.”

Indonesia has recorded two cases of a highly infectious Covid-19 variant first identified in India in the capital Jakarta, the country’s health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said.

“There were two new mutations that entered. One from India, with two incidents in Jakarta and one from South Africa in Bali,” Budi told a virtual conference. Another official confirmed the two cases were the B.1.617 variant, first detected in India.

Indonesia last week stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had been in India in the previous 14 days.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a leading Indian industry body, has urged authorities to take the “strongest national steps” and to curtail economic activity to save lives as the country battles surging coronavirus cases.

Billionaire Uday Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank and CII president, said a “maximal response measure at the highest level is called for to cut the transmission links”, as building healthcare infrastructure will take time.

“At this critical juncture when toll of lives is rising, CII urges the strongest national steps including curtailing economic activity to reduce suffering,” Kotak said in a statement.

Concerned about the economic effect of shutting down the economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown. At least 11 states and federal territories have imposed some form of restrictions.

The Indian Express newspaper reported on Sunday that the country’s Covid-19 task force has advised the federal government to impose a national lockdown.