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India hits record high daily virus deaths

India’s daily coronavirus-linked death count has hit 4205, setting a new daily record and taking the total fatalities due to the disease in the country past 250,000.

A total of 348,421 new infections have been reported since Tuesday, according to a federal health ministry bulletin.

India’s total caseload surged past 23 million as the country battled with a second virulent and deadly wave of the pandemic.

As many as 533 of India’s 700-plus administrative districts are now reporting a test positivity rate of more than 10 per cent, government officials said during a weekly briefing.

The daily new infection count dropped below 350,000 for the second consecutive day but experts are divided on whether India, a country of 1.3 billion, has yet seen a peak of its second wave.

“It is still too early to say whether we have reached the peak. There is some indication of the cases plateauing. But we must not forget that this is a very high plateau,” virologist Shahid Jameel was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper.

Experts have stressed the need to step up vaccinations to fight the rising cases but several states reported a shortage of doses.

Several state governments including Maharashtra, Delhi and Uttarakhand are considering floating global tenders to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to push for import of vaccines and encourage manufacturers to set up franchise operations in India.

Two vaccines are currently being used in India: the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot manufactured by the Serum Institute of India under the name Covishield as well as Covaxin, which has been developed jointly by Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech and the state-supported Indian Council of Medical Research.

The two firms have been unable to meet the demand for vaccines after the government opened eligibility to all Indians above the age of 18 from May 1.

Both Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech were expanding their capacities with financial assistance from the government.

And with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine also expected soon the vaccine crunch should ease in a few weeks, Covid Task Force member Randeep Guleria said on CNN-News18 television channel.

The government is considering requests for the Covaxin formula be shared with other manufacturers.

India has so far administered 175.2 million doses of the vaccine, with about 39 million being given both doses.

India’s latest surge has been linked to a variant of the virus – B.1.617 – which has been found in 44 countries according to the World Health Organisation and has been labelled it a variant of concern.

The country accounts for half of COVID-19 cases and 30 per cent of deaths worldwide, the WHO said.

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