‘More contagious’: Grim COVID warning from pandemic-ravaged India

Politicians in India have issued a stark warning to the rest of the world, saying that the spiralling conditions in the country are creating the perfect breeding ground for even deadlier new COVID variants.

“India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet. The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” politician Rahul Gandhi said.

“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world.”

Mr Gandhi and other key political figures have pleaded with their Prime Minister to send the country into lockdown as the subcontinent’s second wave of COVID-19 devastates the nation.

Dystopian images of mass cremations and a healthcare system at the brink have left officials opposing PM Narendra Modi outraged, calling for immediate action with global records tumbling by the day. Modi declared a country-wide lockdown as a “the last option”, fearing the dire economic repercussions from closing down millions of businesses in the country of 1.39 billion.

But with 414,433 new infections and 3920 deaths lodged in the past 24 hours, the national crisis has spilled far beyond tipping point for the country’s opposition.

Mr Gandhi emphatically declared a “crime has been committed against India” in a tweet aimed at the polarising PM, blaming a lack of strategy for the unprecedented disaster engulfing the country.

For the aptly-named Mr Gandhi, there is simply “no other way” to stop the rabid spread and save the developing nation.

“I just want to make it clear that a lockdown is now the only option because of a complete lack of strategy by GOI,” he said. “They allowed, rather, they actively helped the virus reach this stage where there’s no other way to stop it.”

Gandhi’s address comes a week after images of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party conducting political rallies in front of thousands of tightly-packed onlookers sparked a firestorm of backlash.

“I’ve never seen such huge crowds,” Modi said West Bengal on April 17 — even as India set a world record of 230,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours.

India’s recent numbers have been gruesome, registering up to half of the world’s new coronavirus cases in the past week. For Dr. Yogesh Jain Ganiyari of the Peoples Health Support Group, the crisis has spiralled beyond the point of debate.

“But we don’t live in a lab. We need to take into account the humanitarian aspect,’ Ganiyari said via the Mail. ’Those who look at lockdowns just as disease control mechanisms are heartless. You have to think about the people.”

However, even if India entered a complete country-wide lockdown today, it would need to also bolster support for its battling healthcare system to bring the second wave under control.

A lockdown would indeed help stem the spread, but the potential of a third wave hitting the densely-packed nation after it returns to normal life remains in the minds of the country’s healthcare professionals.

“The national government needs to be in a support role, first and foremost, providing oxygen to states (and) looking at oxygen management,” political analyst and researcher Manisha Priyam said via the ABC. “Please save lives, national Government of India, please save lives. They are your own.”

The country’s current “double mutant” strain, known as B.1.617, has already been detected in 17 nations outside India. World Health Organisation officials warn the highly infectious strain — which was detected in over 50 per cent of positive tests in the hardest-hit region Maharashtra — poses a risk to neighbouring countries.

The WHO has been in a bind dealing with its response to India, speeding up its approval of vaccines in a bid to boost global immunisation coverage. After deploying thousands of extra workers to the world’s now hardest-hit nation, The WHO on Friday approved the first COVID-19 vaccine from China.

“The number of cases, the number of deaths globally is on the increase,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. The WHO has already given emergency use listing to the vaccines being made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and the AstraZeneca jab being produced at separate sites in India and in South Korea.

It also opens the door for the jabs to enter the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme, which aims to provide equitable access around the world and particularly in poorer countries.

The Sinopharm vaccine is already in use in 42 territories around the world, fourth behind AstraZeneca (166), Pfizer-BioNTech (94) and Moderna (46), according to an AFP tally.

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