India’s Covid death toll tops 400,000
India became the third country to pass 400,000 Covid-19 deaths, official data showed yesterday, as the
highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus surged through Asia this week, prompting some countries to tighten curbs and others to hasten vaccination.
India said its total deaths are now 400,312 -- behind only the United States and Brazil -- with total cases almost 30.5 million.
Many experts suspect India's true death toll is more than a million, after a devastating spike in cases in April and May that overwhelmed hospitals.
The surge was blamed on the Delta variant and government complacency after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory over the virus in January.
Daily case numbers have since decreased significantly and many restrictions on activity have been lifted, raising fears of a new spike in coming months.
The government aims to vaccinate all of the country's 1.1 billion adults this year. But because of shortages, administrative confusion and hesitancy, only around five percent have had two doses so far.
On June 21 the government tried to jumpstart the drive by making vaccines free for all adults, leading to a surge in demand with more than nine million shots being given in a day.
Daily inoculation rates have since slowed again, however, averaging just over four million per day over the past week, according to government figures.
Meanwhile, Johnson and Johnson on Thursday said its single-shot Covid-19 vaccine is effective against the Delta variant, with an immune response lasting at least eight months.
The antibodies and immune system cells in the blood of eight people vaccinated with the J&J jab effectively neutralized the Delta strain, researchers found. A second study with 20 vaccinated patients at Boston's Beth Israel Medical Center had similar results.
The highly contagious variant has plagued Asia this week, with record numbers of infections in Australia and South Korea, prompting some countries to tighten curbs and others to hasten vaccination.
The variant has spread to about 100 countries and the World Health Organisation warned recently that it could soon become the dominant form of the virus. It is also driving a spike in cases in Japan, casting a pall over this month's Olympic Games.
Australia, like several other countries in Asia, has struggled to inoculate people as initial successes in containing the pandemic led to vaccine hesitancy, and manufacturers were slow to ship doses.
Australia has fully vaccinated only 6% of its population, while Japan has vaccinated 12%.
Japan reported on Wednesday that the Delta variant now accounts for nearly a third of all cases in the eastern part of the country, including Tokyo, and that could grow to 50% by mid July.
In South Korea, officials yesterday said daily coronavirus cases topped 800, the highest in nearly six months, with vaccination below 10%. The average number of new infections in the country has risen for 10 days straight, and authorities in Seoul have delayed relaxing social distancing measures.
Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous country, imposed emergency measures that begin today. It will last till July 20 to contain a spike in cases.
In Myanmar, authorities imposed stay-at-home-measures on the country's second city yesterday as coronavirus cases in the coup-wracked country surge, with many health workers striking to protest against the junta.
Inhabitants of Mandalay, as well as two townships in the southern Bago region woke up to new restrictions banning more than one person leaving home for non-medical reasons.
There was no timeframe given for the new rules, announced by the health and sports ministry of the State Administration Council –- as the junta calls itself.
The United States has also seen a rise in Delta variant infections in parts of the country where vaccination rates remain low, and the White House said on Thursday it would send special assistance to those hot spots.
Europe, too, is battling an increase in infections, which the WHO has blamed on crowds at Euro 2020 football stadiums. It has warned that a new wave was inevitable if people did not remain disciplined.
Britain is gearing up to lift lockdown restrictions on July 19, even as Delta variant cases rise. Germany said on Thursday it expects the variant to account for up to 80% of infections this month and Portugal imposed night-time curfews.
Meanwhile Russia yesterday said it would not impose a new lockdown despite reporting a record number of coronavirus deaths for the fourth day in a row.
A government tally showed 679 pandemic-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, as Russia battles a surging outbreak driven by the highly infectious Delta variant and worsened by a lagging vaccination drive.