NEW DELHI – Delhi plans to ease restrictions on Covid-19 six weeks after devastating wave of coronavirus rocked the Indian capital, with pledge to increase vaccinations to protect the city’s more than 20 million people of another wave.
But the wish came after a weekend in which city officials were forced to close vaccination centers for lack of supplies, a problem that is rampant across the country as the coronavirus continues to spread. India lacks the vaccine-manufacturing capacity to inoculate much of its population anytime soon, while the prospect of importing new supplies from abroad has stalled amid feuds between central governments and local.
As a result, any decision to lift the coronavirus restrictions could be a mistake if the government allows large gatherings to be held without masks as before.
“The only answer is vaccination,” said Dr Anand Krishnan, professor of community medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.
“The risk will be there,” he said. “We must continue to follow all precautions, including double masking, avoiding crowds and gatherings of any kind, whether social, religious or political,” he said.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday said the city would begin to gradually “unlock” next week if cases continue to decline, while acknowledging a “severe shortage” of vaccines.
“Our top priority is to get everyone vaccinated,” Kejriwal said at a press conference. “If everyone gets vaccinated, maybe we will be spared the third wave,” he said.
The chief minister did not specify the limits that would be lifted. Currently, all businesses except essential services like food deliveries and pharmacies are closed. Travel is limited and public transport has been closed, although people can travel in private cars and buses. The limits apply to the Delhi region, which includes the Central District of New Delhi where the main government offices are based.
Mr Kejriwal’s comments follow a sharp drop in infections and deaths in Delhi, at least according to official figures. Delhi reported 1,649 new infections and 189 deaths on Monday. These figures represent a sharp drop from nearly 30,000 new cases in mid-April, although they also show that coronavirus infections remain a persistent threat.
Nationwide, India surpassed 300,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Monday and recorded 222,315 new infections, the country The ministry of health reported. While India’s total of 26.8 million infections still lags the United States at over 33 million, the US government has launched a massive vaccination campaign that has brought down new infections. Only about 3 percent of the Indian population has received two doses.
Experts also widely warn that official figures from India severely underestimate new infections and deaths due to lack of tests and other resources in a vast developing country of 1.4 billion people. .
Officials across India are facing pressure to reopen their local economies. Factory workers and members of the country’s vast informal traders workforce and countless others cannot work from home and are eager to start their lives over.
A lack of vaccines in the country is hampering this surge. Almost three weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government extended India’s immunization program to all adults, the campaign in Delhi came to an abrupt end.
Delhi public schools and stadiums, where thousands of people lined up for hours for a coronavirus vaccine, were closed over the weekend as the city ran out of doses for its large and young population.
Mr Kejriwal said his government was prepared to spend all the money it needed to organize eight million doses per month over the next three months, enough to vaccinate all adults in Delhi, both from the government central and directly from the main manufacturers.
Delhi’s experience, however, could be similar to that of other Indian states looking for doses at a time when vaccines are scarce around the world.
A senior Punjab state official told the local news media Sunday that Moderna, the U.S. vaccine maker, rejected its purchase request, saying the company would only sell to national governments. The company did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
State governments – especially those controlled by political factions opposed to Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party – clashed with the Modi administration over vaccines and other issues, saying the central government had left them to themselves.
India has lagged behind other countries in signing advance purchase agreements to purchase vaccine in bulk. Experts criticized Mr. Modi and his government for the delays.
Dr Gagandeep Kang, one of the country’s top virologists, said in a video interview on Sunday that the country was “behind the table” in purchasing vaccines on the international market.
“The rest of the world has been buying risky vaccines for a year, so what’s the supply available in the market so that we can say we want to buy vaccines?” she said NDTV.
Instead of competing with the rest of the world, Dr Kang suggested the country invest in ramping up production of other potential vaccine candidates from Indian manufacturers who should have their doses ready by the end of the year. .
“I think we’ll have more doses this way,” she said.
Emily Schmall contributed reporting.