India battles a raging new pandemic wave

New Delhi, India: As Europe's confirmed cases surpassed 50 million, India's coronavirus death toll surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, with a flood of new cases swamping hospitals and sending desperate families off to scour the capital for oxygen and medication.

On Wednesday, the vast South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people recorded 360,000 new infections – a global daily record – and over 3,000 deaths.

In comparison, the United States, the United Kingdom, and several European countries are taking tentative measures toward normalcy.

However, Europe had reason to pause, with the cumulative number of cases since the pandemic started reaching 50,021,615, according to a count collected by AFP at 1715 GMT from official sources.

The virus has now infected over 3.1 million people worldwide, with Europe being the hardest hit.

Offering a glimmer of hope, the co-founder of BioNTech, which collaborated with Pfizer to create a Covid-19 vaccine, said that he is optimistic the shot would operate against the variant that is wreaking havoc in India.

Car parks in New Delhi have been turned into crematoriums, and the body count has caused a shortage of wood for funeral pyres.

Families of the ill are congregating outside hospitals and pharmacies in search of care and medications.

Since her mother became ill a week ago, Priyanka Mandal, 30, has been looking for oxygen for her.

"Medicines are also not available... I've visited five, six big medical stores," she told AFP.

"No matter how much time it takes, I have to wait here... I only have my mum."

'Prosperous' full moon 


Despite the raging pandemic, 25,000 people attended the final day of the Kumbh Mela religious festival in the northern Indian town of Haridwar on Tuesday, attracted to the banks of the Ganges by an "auspicious" full moon, festival official Harbeer Singh told AFP.


The gathering has drawn millions of pilgrims, most of whom are not wearing masks, fueling criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government for allowing it to take place.

According to the World Health Organization, the virus variant suspected of leading to the devastating wave in India has now been discovered in more than a dozen countries.

However, the WHO has refrained from claiming that it is more transmissible, more lethal, or capable of evading vaccine safety.

Many countries hurried to assist, sending urgently needed oxygen and assistance.

Singapore announced Wednesday that it had sent two planeloads of oxygen supplies as part of the global initiative, and Germany would send 120 ventilators and plans to set up oxygen production.

Russia said it was sending emergency aid to the country, including oxygen, ventilators, and drugs, while Switzerland said it was sending $1 million (827,000 euros) in hospital aid.

Following a first consignment of help this week, Britain declared Wednesday that it would send three oxygen "factories" the size of containers to India.

India is also expected to receive some of the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses that the US has said it would export.

In addition, Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech, stated that the vaccine his company produced in collaboration with Pfizer appears to protect against the Indian strain.

"We are still testing the Indian variant, but the Indian variant has mutations that we have already tested for and which our vaccine works against, so I am confident," said Sahin.

Great to be here 

When India was dealing with horrific circumstances, the Dutch celebrated the end of a curfew and the opening of cafe terraces.

"It's great to be here with my girlfriend and my friends. I think it feels great after six months of being inside," Marvin Erhart told AFP from a cafe in the Hague.

Similar efforts have recently been made in Italy, Portugal, and Switzerland to ease controls, even as governments struggle to phase out much-needed vaccines.

The Scala Opera House in Milan announced Wednesday that it would reopen on May 10 with a capacity of 500 people.

France hopes to follow the trend and relax more regulations this month, but it is still struggling to drastically reduce the number of people in hospitals, dying, and being sick.

On Friday, President Emmanuel Macron will lay out the next steps.

The European Union (EU) accused Beijing and Moscow on Wednesday of ramping up "state-sponsored misinformation" campaigns against Western-developed vaccines while promoting their own.

After suing the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca for allegedly breaching their purchasing agreement, the EU is eager to speed up its slow immunization push.

The bloc and the pharmaceutical behemoth are scheduled to appear in court on May 26.

Meanwhile, Britain announced that it had purchased 60 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine for a winter booster program to protect the most vulnerable.

Summer Olympics organizers in Japan have announced that athletes and close associates will be tested for viruses on a regular basis.

The announcement comes after the Australian government announced that an estimated 2,000 athletes and staff members will be vaccinated before traveling to the Games, which are set to begin on July 23.

The Olympic organizers have said they won't know how many fans – if any – would be able to attend the postponed Games until June, with chief Seiko Hashimoto warning that "as of now, having full venues is very difficult".

COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF THE CARAVAN

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