New Delhi placed under lockdown after rising infections
India on Monday opened its Covid-19 vaccination drive to all adults from May, as the vast nation battles a record-breaking spike in infections that forced the capital into a week-long lockdown. The hard-hit United States also made all adults eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The looming lockdown sparked a crush at a major bus terminal in New Delhi, with tens of thousands of migrant workers trying to flee the restrictions — fuelling fears they could spread the virus to their rural hometowns.
India, which currently limits shots to those over the age of 45, kicked off its inoculation drive in mid-January and has administered more than 123 million shots so far.
But experts have called for a faster rollout to combat the surge, which has placed a huge strain on the vast country’s already overstretched healthcare system.
Since the daily increases in the caseload fell to below 9,000 in February, numbers have been skyrocketing, with a new record of 273,810 infections on Monday to take the total to 15.06 million, second only to the United States.
“In a meeting chaired by (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi, an important decision of allowing vaccination to everyone above the age of 18 from 1st May has been taken,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Vaccine makers would have to supply 50% of doses to the national government, and the other half to state governments and the open market.
“It’s about time! I think this should’ve been done much sooner,” Mumbai-based screenwriter Nisha Kalra, 28, told AFP.
“Knowing we can get vaccinated has immediately reduced the stress, panic and horror of the last few weeks.”
India has authorised the emergency use of several vaccines: Oxford-AstraZeneca’s jab, Indian firm Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Russia’s Sputnik V.
The vaccination announcement came after New Delhi — the worst-hit city in India — said it would impose a week-long lockdown from Monday night.
Experts blame complacency about the virus. There is also growing concern that variants, including a “double mutant” version, are fuelling infections.
“The only long-term solution to Covid-19 is to vaccinate as many people as possible,” said Ashoka University physics and biology professor Gautam Menon.
The surge led Britain and Pakistan to impose curbs Monday on travellers from India. Neighbouring Pakistan said all arrivals were banned for two weeks while London said only British and Irish nationals were allowed to enter.
India has the world’s second-highest caseload with more than 15 million known infections.
The soaring cases forced British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel a planned visit to the country this month, and Britain said Monday it would add India to its travel “red list”, banning all arrivals from India except for UK or Irish nationals.
The coronavirus has killed more than three million people, devastating the world economy and upending daily life since first emerging in China in late 2019.
The United States remains the hardest-hit nation, with more deaths and known infections than anywhere else.
But with President Joe Biden’s administration ramping up shots, it made all its over-18s eligible for vaccination beginning Monday.
“We have enough of it, you need to be protected, and you need in turn to protect your neighbours and your family,” Biden said in a video released by the White House.
“So please: get the vaccine.”
The United States also passed a major vaccine milestone Sunday, with roughly 130 million Americans — half its adult population — receiving at least one dose.
But its top pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci warned that the country remains in a “precarious position”.
“We’re having a seven-day average of over 60,000 new infections per day. That’s a place you don’t want to be,” he said Sunday.
“We also have to make sure that people don’t throw caution to the wind and declare victory prematurely.”
Neighbouring Canada illustrated the threat of a fresh coronavirus wave, as authorities scrambled to funnel additional health staff and equipment into Ontario to battle a surge in infections.
Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, and record cases are threatening to overwhelm its healthcare system.