US advises citizens to leave India ‘as soon as it is safe’ as Covid cases reach new record
The US has advised its citizens inside India to leave as soon as it is safe as the country reported another record day of Covid cases and deaths.
India’s health ministry on Thursday said the country had recorded 379,257 new cases and 3,645 new deaths. India’s total number of cases and deaths stood at 18.38 million and 204,832.
An alert on the US embassy website warned that “access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited in India due to the surge in Covid-19 cases” and noted that deaths had risen sharply.
“US citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options now,” it said. The Department of State “advises US citizens not to travel to India or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so due to the current health situation in country”.
The move came as the US said it was sending more than $100m in supplies to India, including nearly 1m instant tests on a first flight.
The country has been in the grip of an unprecedented crisis with soaring Covid cases and oxygen supplies becoming scarce in some areas. Crematoriums in Delhi have been so overloaded with bodies that they have been forced to build makeshift funeral pyres on spare patches of land.
Many believe the real death toll in the capital and across India is far higher than official figures, not least because those who die at home under quarantine are not officially registered as Covid-19 deaths. Authorities have been accused of skewing the data to downplay the scale of the crisis.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been criticised for allowing massive political rallies and religious festivals that have been super-spreader events in recent weeks.
More than 8.4 million eligible voters are set to cast ballots on Thursday in the last phase of an eight-part election in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, even as the state witnesses a record rise in coronavirus cases.
“The people of this country are entitled to a full and honest account of what led more than a billion people into a catastrophe,” Vikram Patel, a professor of global health at Harvard Medical School, wrote in the Hindu newspaper.
The White House said the first supply flight would arrive on Thursday in Delhi on a military plane, days after Joe Biden promised to step up assistance.
The first shipment includes 960,000 rapid tests, which can detect Covid in 15 minutes, and 100,000 N95 masks for frontline health workers, the US Agency for International Development said.
The White House said total aid on flights in the coming days would be worth more than $100m and would include 1,000 refillable oxygen cylinders and 1,700 concentrators that produce oxygen for patients from the air.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” a White House statement said.
The White House said it was also sending supplies to India to produce more than 20m vaccine doses. The supplies are being diverted from orders to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the US.
The White House had promised on Sunday to free up material to let India produce Covishield, its low-cost version of AstraZeneca, after criticism that the US was hogging supply.
Biden said on Monday that the US would also ship overseas up to 60m AstraZeneca vaccine doses that had already been manufactured, but it remained unclear how many would go to India.
India’s best hope to curb its second wave is to vaccinate its vast population, experts say, and on Wednesday it opened registrations for everyone above the age of 18 to be given jabs from Saturday.
But the country, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, does not have the stocks for the estimated 600 million people becoming eligible. Many people who tried to sign up said they failed, complaining on social media that they could not get a slot or they simply could not get online to register as the website repeatedly crashed.
The government rejected reports of problems with its vaccine campaign. “Statistics indicate that far from crashing or performing slowly, the system is performing without any glitches,” it said in a statement late on Wednesday.
The government said more than 8 million people had registered for the vaccinations, but it was not immediately clear how many had got slots. About 9% of India’s population have received one dose since the vaccination campaign began in January with healthcare workers and then elderly people.
Reuters contributed to this report
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