‘Gang’ busted over vaccine scam

A hospital in India has had its doors shut and license revoked after officials uncovered an elaborate vaccine scam in the country’s capital.

India has upped its efforts to vaccinate its 1.39 billion-strong population after a devastating second wave ripped through the subcontinent in early 2021, bringing the country’s total death toll to over 400,000 this week.

Vaccine drives facilitated by Mumbai hospitals have been used to some effect, but the lack of regulation amid the chaos has encouraged corruption, even from licensed health officials.

The complex vaccine scam utilised loopholes in India’s vaccination system, refilling empty vials formerly filled with legitimate doses of the vaccine.

The hospital was authorised to administer vaccines until April 28 but conducted nine bogus vaccine drives May 25 to June 6 when it had no authority to hold vaccination events.

According to Mumbai police, approximately 2,060 people were given false vaccine doses across nine drives connected to Shivam Hospital between May 25 and June 6.

Police said couple Shivraj and Neeta Pataria, who ran the Shivam hospital, were arrested as prime suspects on June 24, alongside Shivam dentist Manish Tripathi.

Officials revealed the trio held a secret meeting in a hotel to plan their next move, allegedly aiming to produce an additional 100,000 doses of fake vaccines to administer.

Additional Commissioner of Police Dilip Sawant said the scam only came to light because victims did not receive official vaccination certificates, which led some to report the dodgy practice to officials.

“They would have then issued vaccination certificates from the batches of procured jabs to those vaccinated in the nine drives. Hence, they kept delaying issuing certificates,” an officer told Indian Express.

“They had kept a diary with the names of those who did not receive certificates. The gang felt the government would be unable to verify all details and they will get away.”

Joint Commissioner of Police Vishwas Nangre Patil said they also arrested a person named Rahul Dubey, who worked as an admin official at Shivam hospital. Mr Dubey confessed to filling vaccine vials with saline water, outing his accomplices who were also placed in custody

“We have good evidence against the accused. Many accused have also confessed that they used saline water. In all nine drives, only one syndicate and Shivam hospital are involved,” Commissioner Patil said. “We have arrested all the big fish. We will arrest more people if they are found involved in the racket.”

The worrying development prompted a push for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to require hospitals to destroy vials after administering legitimate vaccine doses, eliminating any possibility of similar fake vaccine scams sprouting up in the Covid-19 hotspot.

“Due to the violations and cheating allegations, we have decided to permanently revoke the hospital’s license. The accused couple was using the hospital premises for illegal activity,” BMC Assistant Commissioner Sanjay Kurhade said.

India’s death toll hits 400,000

India this week became the third country alongside the USA and Brazil to record more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths, following its cataclysmic second wave in April this year.

The spread peaked at over 380,000 positive cases per day, however the true number of positive cases is still up for debate.

Haunting photos of bodies floating up the Ganges made for grim front pages this week, presenting global readers with the harsh reality of life inside a Covid-ravaged country.

Officials say more than 600 bodies were buried along the holy river during the virus surge, but locals believe that is a fraction of the real number and fear that many more could be dislodged by rapid waters in the next few weeks.

Sonu Chandel, a boater who works for a crematorium, was shaken by the sight of families burying their loved ones a couple of months ago.

“It was really sad to see poor people burying their loved ones in an undignified manner, but the rising water level has made it worse,” Chandel told AFP. “There is always the fear of (a body) hitting the oar or (my boat) running over a dead body as the water level goes up.”

Already one of the world’s most polluted waterways, the Ganges stands to become even more toxic if the bodies are not removed.

“This … could cause dangerous diseases,” Dipin Kumar, who lives near the Ganges in Allahabad, told the news agency. “The government must think this over and only they can make a plan.”

India has now officially recorded 30,501,189 positive cases, at 22,000 cases per million for a total of 401,068 deaths.

In contrast, Australia has recorded 30,725 cases and 911 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic at 1,191 positive tests per million.

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