India to pump billions into Covid fight

Biden sets vaccine target, Global toll rises to 32,30,058

Agence France-Presse . Mumbai | Published: 10:45, May 05,2021 | Updated: 00:10, May 06,2021


India on Wednesday pledged billions of dollars to boost its flagging vaccine programme, as president Joe Biden said 70 per cent of American adults should have had at least one coronavirus shot by July 4.

With vaccines among the main weapons in the fight against the pandemic, pharma giant Pfizer reported a huge jump in profits based on sales of its Covid-19 shot as a growing campaign called for patent waivers so poorer nations can get quicker access.

Among the leaders of that  campaign is India, which reported nearly 3,800 new deaths Wednesday — a national record — and more than 3,80,000 fresh cases as it grapples with one of the world’s worst outbreaks.

‘The devastating speed with which the virus affects different regions of the country has to be matched by swift and wide-ranging actions,’ said Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das, as he announced $6.7 billion in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms.

Experts have warned that case numbers will keep rising until the end of May and could reach 5,00,000 new infections a day.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 32,30,058 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1000 GMT on Wednesday. At least 15,42,88,900 cases of coronavirus have been registered. On Tuesday, 14,024 new deaths and 7,91,327 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were India with 3,780, followed by Brazil with 2,966 and the United States with 914.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 5,78,500 deaths from 3,25,12,946 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 4,11,588 deaths from 1,48,56,888 cases, India with 2,26,188 deaths from 2,06,65,148 cases, Mexico with 2,17,740 deaths from 23,52,964 cases, and the United Kingdom with 1,27,543 deaths from 44,23,796 cases.

Europe overall has 10,79,667 deaths from 5,09,42,050 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 9,34,775 deaths from 2,92,67,453 infections, and the United States and Canada 6,02,896 deaths from 3,37,62,896 cases.

Asia has reported 3,56,113 deaths from 2,77,42,504 cases, the Middle East 1,32,668 deaths from 79,38,692 cases, Africa 1,22,880 deaths from 45,91,767 cases, and Oceania 1,059 deaths from 43,546 cases.

India’s underfunded health system has struggled to cope with this wave, with patients dying in hospital parking lots due to a lack of beds and medical oxygen.

The government expanded its massive vaccination programme to all adults last week, but many states are facing shortages.

While New Delhi and other major cities have imposed curfews and other restrictions, the government has resisted opposition calls for a nationwide lockdown as it tries to avoid the economic downturn that accompanied such restrictions last year.

‘The poor have nothing left,’ Vimala Devi, a 61-year-old homemaker in Delhi, said on Tuesday.

‘We are just left to die on the streets.’

Vaccine shortages are not an issue in the United States, however, where president Joe Biden on Tuesday said he wanted 70 per cent of American adults to have received at least one shot by the July 4 Independence Day holiday.

Biden also said his administration was ‘ready to move immediately’ if regulators authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.But the plan to jab teens is controversial, with many experts questioning the wisdom of devoting limited vaccine supplies to a low-risk group instead of sharing it to target high-risk groups around the world.

‘I think if you vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds in the United States before you vaccinate 70-year-olds globally, you’re making a terrible error,’ UCSF physician and epidemiologist Vinay Prasad said.

And Priya Sampathkumar, chair of Infection Prevention & Control at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, said: ‘Vaccinating more people in the US is not going to help us if the variants in India, Nepal and South Asia get out of control and hit our shores.

The United States and other wealthy G7 nations are under growing pressure to help poorer nations, including by waiving intellectual property and patent rules for vaccines, at least temporarily.

President Biden said he had not made a decision on whether to support a waiver but that the United States was moving ‘as quickly as we can’ to export doses.

Illustrating the value of such patents and intellectual property, pharma giant Pfizer on Tuesday sharply increased its 2021 profit projections, citing much higher Covid-19 vaccine sales.

The British government said Wednesday it is spending 29.3 million pounds ($40.6 million) on new coronavirus vaccine laboratories at its secretive Porton Down research facility to ‘future-proof the country from the threat of new variants’.

In hard-hit Brazil, the government came under further pressure on Tuesday as a former health minister said president Jair Bolsonaro repeatedly ignored warnings that his Covid-19 response risked causing a collapse of the health system.

The far-right leader has been criticised for his coronavirus scepticism and what opponents say is his poor handling of the crisis, with more than 4,00,000 lives lost to Covid-19 in Brazil — the second-highest death toll in the world.

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