Body of a COVID-19 victim is wheeled in for cremation in a ground that has been converted into a crematorium in New Delhi on Thursday. AP
International support grew on Thursday for a US proposal to waive patents on much-needed coronavirus vaccines, as India posted record deaths and infections from a catastrophic wave swamping the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government welcomed US 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 Organisation 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.
Pratibha Rohilla who is suffering from coronavirus sits on a bed inside the emergency room of Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi. AP
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.
"We are appreciative of US support," foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said.
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.
COVID-19 patients receive oxygen outside a Gurdwara in New Delhi. AP
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.
NO NATIONAL LOCKDOWN
Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became "super spreader" events.
A coronavirus patient on oxygen support is helped by a health worker in a hospital in Ahmedabad. AFP
Several Indian states have imposed various levels of social restrictions to try to stem infections, but the federal government has resisted imposing a national lockdown.
The southern state of Kerala announced on Thursday it will impose nine days of curbs on movement from Saturday.
In the office of a Hindu crematorium in Delhi, the floor and shelves were overflowing with earthen pots, plastic packets and steel containers filled with the ashes of people who have died from COVID-19.
Practising Hindus collect the ashes of the dead a few days after the funeral for immersion in a river or sea, one of the rituals that they believe lead to salvation of the soul.
"Our lockers are full. We cannot store any more ashes. We used to get around 40 COVID-19 bodies a day. We are now telling relatives to take the ashes with them on the same day," Pankaj Sharma, a manager at the crematorium, told Reuters.
The UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told a video briefing most experts agree that the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t reached the poorest parts of the world, but may peak in the next three to six months.
"We face a global public enemy like no other," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a virtual briefing on Friday, asking for international organisations, world leaders and the private sector to join the effort. "A world free of COVID-19 requires the most massive public health effort in history."
The beginning of vaccinations could be a crucial shift in the battle against a virus that has claimed more than 1.4 million lives worldwide, including 255,000 just in the US, since emerging from China late last year.
The Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, (Seha), the UAE’s largest healthcare network, successfully treated 17-month-old Emirati baby Afra, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).
An African gang of eight members was arrested and prosecuted by the Dubai Public Prosecution on robbery charges. The gang had mugged an Asian bank customer of Dhs190,000 in Dubai.
A 52-year-old European manager was trialed by the Dubai Public Prosecution for demanding a Dhs530,000 bribe from his Dubai company in order to perform work tasks.