India continues to be pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, documenting a new national record Sunday of nearly 3,700 deaths in the last 24 hours and more than 390,000 new infections.
Even so, India began counting votes for state elections, although the Madras High Court assailed the country’s Election Commission for not stopping political rallies that flouted COVID-19 restrictions. Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee called the commission “singularly responsible” for the surge in new cases. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
While India is home to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, only 2% of the country’s 1.3 billion people have so far been vaccinated, according to reports.
The country expanded its vaccine eligibility Saturday to anyone 18 and older, but many locations reported that they did not have any vaccines. Many in India have blamed Adar Poonawalla, Serum Institute’s chief executive officer, for the gap.
But he pushed back against the attacks.
“The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented,” he told Britain’s The Times in an interview Sunday. “I’m staying here an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation,”
“Everything falls on my shoulders, but I can’t do it alone,” he said. “I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad.”
But after scathing criticism on social media Saturday, the 40-year-old billionaire posted on Twitter that he would return to India: “Had an excellent meeting with all our partners & stakeholders in the U.K. Meanwhile, pleased to state that COVISHIELD’s [an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made in India] production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days.”
The New York Times reported that India’s government had completed a threat assessment and announced that the Serum Institute chief would receive police protection.
Poonawalla also announced on Twitter that, “As a philanthropic gesture," the Serum Institute would cut prices of its vaccine, which he said would "enable more vaccinations and save countless lives.”
In the United States, President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” show, “We are rushing aid to India.” But the White House also said Friday that starting Tuesday, the U.S. will stop incoming flights from India to prevent the spread of the infections.
The U.S. has dispatched two Air Force transport planes carrying oxygen cylinders, N95 masks and rapid diagnostic tests, the first of several planned shipments. Taiwan says it has sent much-needed oxygen supplies.
Elsewhere, in Brazil, thousands of people ignored their own coronavirus surge Saturday to march in the streets of Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in support of President Jair Bolsonaro.
The South American country has recorded more than 406,000 deaths, including more than 2,600 on Saturday. It is second only to the United States in COVID-19 deaths. The U.S. has more than 576,700 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Bolsonaro, who opposes pandemic restrictions put in place by governors and mayors, recently said the army “could take to the street one day, to ensure… freedom to come and go.” Some of Saturday’s banners called for a “military intervention” and bolstering Bolsonaro’s powers.
Music festival in Wuhan
Meanwhile in Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak, thousands attended a two-day Strawberry Music Festival that opened Saturday.
The festival was forced to go online due to the pandemic a year ago. Although barriers were set separating the crowd and security personnel enforcing restrictions, about 11,000 people danced and sang along with their favorite bands on three stages, as some attendees wore masks while many did not, according to the Reuters news agency.
More than 152 million global COVID infections have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins. The U.S. has 32.3 million, while India has 19.5 million and Brazil has 14.7 million.