India dwells in Covid hell as Japan to declare emergency

New Delhi, India: On Friday, hospitals in India launched urgent requests for oxygen as the country's Covid crisis reached new heights, while Japan prepared to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo just three months before the Olympics.

Covid-19 outbreaks are putting a strain on healthcare systems around the world, and there is no end in sight to a pandemic that has killed over three million people.

The wave in India has been blamed on a new "double mutant" virus variant as well as the government's decision to allow large public gatherings that turned out to be super-spreader events.

On Friday, the country announced more than 330,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths in a single day, as hospitals raised the alarm about oxygen supplies for patients on ventilator support.

"SOS — less than an hour's oxygen supplies at Max Smart Hospital & Max Hospital Saket," tweeted one of Delhi's largest private hospital chains.

"Over 700 patients have been admitted and need urgent assistance."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to hold at least three crisis meetings to address the shortage of essential drugs and oxygen supplies.

To make matters worse, 13 Covid patients were killed in Mumbai when a fire broke out in their hospital, the latest in a series of fires at Indian healthcare facilities.

At the start of the year, there were expectations that India had overcome the worst of the pandemic.

Because of this conviction, the government has relaxed its guard and allowed most activities to return to near-normalcy in recent months, including weddings and cricket matches.

The massive Kumbh Mela festival, one of the world's largest religious gatherings, held in the city of Haridwar, drew an estimated 25 million Hindu pilgrims, the majority of whom did not wear masks.

Many parts of the country have tightened controls, with the capital now under lockdown and all non-essential services prohibited in Maharashtra.

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 240 million people, will be closed this weekend.

Fearing the latest virus strain, other countries have closed their borders to India. The United Arab Emirates became the latest country to enact restrictions on Thursday, while Canada suspended flights from both India and Pakistan.

'Strong, succinct, and concentrated'

Despite vaccine programs, many countries are experiencing new outbreaks of the virus.

Japan was expected to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, just three months before the nation is scheduled to host the Olympics.

On Thursday, the capital region reported more than 860 new infections, the highest number since January. Cases increased over the winter and have risen again after a previous state of emergency was lifted in March.

"We will take solid, brief, and centered emergency steps," said Katsunobu Kato, the top government spokesman.

The restrictions will take effect during the annual Golden Week holiday, Japan's busiest travel season, and may include the suspension of certain train and bus services to discourage travel.

Authorities in affected areas are also likely to prohibit fans from attending sporting activities – but authorities have insisted that the emergency measures would have no effect on the Olympics' staging.

Vaccination campaigns that began slowly in many European countries are now picking up steam.

According to Health Minister Jens Spahn, Germany plans to make immunization available to all adults by June at the latest.

According to Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer, who addressed the topic with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, Europe's largest economy is in negotiations with Russia to purchase 30 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

The problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine show no signs of abating, with the European Commission threatening legal action against the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker for under-delivering doses to the EU, which hampered the bloc's early vaccination rollout.

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