Indian Christian priests and others throw flower petals on the grave of Father Rolfie D'Souza's who died of COVID-19 after his…
Indian Christian priests and others throw flower petals on the grave of Father Rolfie D'Souza, who died of COVID-19, after his burial at a cemetery in Prayagraj, India, May 15, 2021.

India reported its smallest daily gain in COVID-19 cases in nearly three weeks Saturday, continuing a trend that began last week as the government warned of an overwhelming surge sweeping across rural areas.

India’s health ministry reported 326,098 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period and 3,890 COVID deaths.

Federal health officials in India said at a briefing the overall rate of infections had fallen to 19.8% this week from 21.9% the week before.

But the virus is continuing to spread aggressively to rural areas, where two-thirds of the country’s 1.4 billion people live.

A policeman takes notes as he asks a motorist about his reasons for being out during a curfew imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Dharmsala, India, May 15, 2021.

Amid news reports of sick people in rural areas being rushed to towns and cities for treatment, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered his government to mobilize all resources to distribute oxygen supplies and other medical aid to hard-hit rural areas.

In Taiwan, Taipei and New Taipei City were placed on a Level 3 alert, one level short of a full lockdown, following a surge of 180 COVID-19 cases. The new infections brought Taiwan’s total cases to just under 1,500. The Level 3 alert requires mandatory mask wearing outdoors and restricts the size of social gatherings. Taiwan had been hailed as a pandemic success story because it had not had any new cases in months.

Only the U.S. has recorded more total COVID-19 cases than India. As of Saturday afternoon EDT, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the U.S. had recorded more than 32.9 million infections, while India had nearly 24.4 million. Public health officials, however, believe that India has undercounted its cases. Johns Hopkins reported the global count of COVID-19 cases was more than 162 million.

A digital board advises the public that COVID-19 vaccines are available as a virus variant affects the community in Bolton, northwest England, May 14, 2021.

Infections from a fast-spreading strain of the coronavirus first identified in India prompted Britain to deploy public health officials to distribute test kits door to door Saturday in the northern towns of Bolton and Blackburn.

Britain launched the campaign to try to stem the spread of the variant that threatens plans to lift all containment measures next month.

'Surge testing'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that army soldiers would help with “surge testing” in Bolton and Blackburn, where pop-up vaccination sites were also being set up.

The World Health Organization appealed to wealthy countries Friday to scrap plans to inoculate young people with COVID-19 vaccine in favor of donating it to poorer countries.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to #COVAX,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a virtual coronavirus meeting in Geneva.

FILE - Workers load boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, part of the COVAX program, into a truck after they arrived by plane at the Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, Madagascar, May 8, 2021.

France and Sweden started donating doses to COVAX after vaccinating their priority populations, unlike the U.S. and Canada, both of which started inoculating adolescents in recent weeks.

A WHO official said, however, that negotiations are underway to get the U.S. to share doses with low-income countries to help ensure all countries are adequately protected.

"We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” Tedros said, adding that “a combination of public health measures and vaccination” is the only solution.

A growing number of U.S. state officials said Friday that they would follow new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus to stop wearing masks in most public places. The governors of New York, Colorado and Washington were the latest to announce an end to mask requirements in most indoor settings.

In addition, Walmart said Friday that fully vaccinated employees would not need to wear masks at work starting Tuesday, following the CDC guidelines. It also said that vaccinated customers could shop without masks starting Tuesday.

Mask exceptions

The CDC issued the new guidelines Thursday, noting that masks would still be required on all forms of public transportation, as well as in hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

In Germany, officials classified Britain as a coronavirus risk area because of the emergence there of the virus variant first detected in India.

China reported 12 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including the first local transmissions in more than three weeks.

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