A senior Indian government scientific adviser warned Wednesday that a third wave of coronavirus infections would sweep the country as it struggles with the devastating effects of the current wave that officially claimed nearly 4,000 lives in the course of one day.
The government’s principal scientific adviser, K. Vijay Raghavan, issued the warning as the World Health Organization said in its weekly report that India accounted for almost half the cases reported globally last week and about a quarter of all fatalities.
“Phase 3 is inevitable, given the high levels of circulating virus,” Raghavan told a news briefing in New Delhi. “But it is not clear on what timescale this phase 3 will occur ... We should prepare for new waves.”
India’s crisis is aggravated by a critical lack of oxygen needed to treat critically ill patients, along with the raw materials needed to manufacture doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. While India is home to the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, only 2% of the country's 1.3 billion people have been vaccinated, according to local reports. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
To help address the oxygen shortage, India’s Supreme Court ordered the government Wednesday to submit a plan to meet oxygen needs in New Dehli hospitals within one day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have been roundly criticized over the last several weeks for holding massive election rallies in West Bengal. Health experts have suggested the rallies may have contributed to a record surge in the state.
Other political parties also held rallies there.
Award-winning author Arundhati Roy called for Modi to resign in an opinion piece that was published Tuesday by the independent news website Scroll.in.
“This is a crisis of your making,” she wrote. “You cannot solve it. You can only make it worse ... So please go.”
In a related development, Agence France-Presse reported that India’s Reserve Bank has pledged to provide $6.7 billion in cheap financing for the country’s vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms.
The United Nations Children’s Fund announced shipments of medical supplies to India Wednesday, including 2 million face shields and 200,000 surgical masks. UNICEF also said it is supporting other endeavors in India, such as the acquisition of 25 oxygen plants for hospitals in the northeast and in the western state of Maharashtra.
India’s Health Ministry reported another 382,315 new cases of coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including 3,780 COVID-related deaths. The South Asian nation has more than 20 million total coronavirus infections, second only behind the United States, and 226,188 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Intellectual property rights
Member nations of the World Trade Organization were wrapping up two days of talks in Geneva Wednesday on waiving intellectual property rights on new COVID-19 vaccines.
Ambassadors from the WTO’s 164 member states had been debating a proposal first floated by South Africa and India last October that would temporarily lift patent rights held by pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines. Supporters of the proposal say the waiver will allow for the faster manufacture of vaccines for use by developing countries, where vaccination rates have lagged behind those of wealthier nations.
But pharmaceutical companies claim that granting the waiver could hurt future innovation and will not lead to the quick production of vaccines.
Dozens of civil society groups and former heads of state, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union, have urged U.S. President Joe Biden to support the proposed waiver. More than 100 members of the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to Biden, urging him to support the proposal.
The International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations also urged Biden to support the proposal, saying in a letter it would help “ensure universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
Biden said he has not made a decision on the matter. The proposal must be agreed on by all the WTO member nations.
Also on Wednesday, Germany and the World Health Organization announced plans to establish a global monitoring operation to help prevent future threats like the current pandemic.
The Berlin-based “global hub for pandemic and epidemic intelligence” would track and monitor “exposed gaps in the global systems for pandemic and epidemic intelligence,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The monitoring center will get about $36 million from Germany and search for funds from other sources.