May 17. 2021. 5:02

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Coronavirus: India reports record 3,600 deaths

People sit in an observation area after getting inoculated with a dose of Covishield vaccine at the BKC Jumbo vaccination centre in Mumbai on May 2nd. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP via Getty Images

India reported a record 3,689 coronavirus-related deaths in its daily update on Sunday, while one more state announced it was going into lockdown as the Covid-19 crisis in the country deepens.

Authorities reported 392,488 new cases in the previous 24 hours to push total cases to 19.56 million. So far, the virus has killed more than 200,000 people.

Indian hospitals, morgues and crematoriums have been overwhelmed as the country has reported more than 300,000 daily cases for more than 10 days straight. Many families have been left on their own to scramble for medicines and oxygen.

Nearly 10 Indian states and union territories have imposed some form of restrictions, even as the federal government remains reluctant to impose a national lockdown.

The eastern state of Odisha became the latest to announce a two-week lockdown, joining Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal. Other states, including Uttar Pradesh, Telengana, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, have either imposed night curfews or weekend lockdowns.

The Indian Express newspaper reported on Sunday that the country’s Covid-19 taskforce has advised the federal government to impose a national lockdown.

Last month, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said all efforts should be made be avoid a lockdown.

The federal government fears another lockdown will have a devastating impact on the economy. The lockdown imposed last year after the first Covid-19 outbreak led to job losses as economic output fell a record 24 per cent in April-June 2020 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Mr Modi’s government has been criticised for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies in five states through March and April. Daily cases in these states have spiked since then.

India opened vaccinations to all adults on Saturday.

The world’s largest maker of vaccines was still short of critical supplies, the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages that delayed the rollout in several states.

Even in places where the shots were in stock, the country’s wide economic disparities made access to the vaccine inconsistent.

Only a fraction of India’s 1.4 billion people will be able to afford the prices charged by private hospitals for the shot, experts said, meaning that states will be saddled with immunising the 600 million Indian adults younger than 45, while the federal government gives shots to 300 million healthcare and frontline workers and people older than 45.

So far, government vaccines have been free and private hospitals have been permitted to sell shots at a price capped at 250 rupees, or about €2.80.

That practice will now change and prices for state governments and private hospitals will be determined by vaccine companies.

Some states might not be able to provide vaccines for free since they are paying twice as much as the federal government for the same shot, and prices at private hospitals could rise.

Since state governments and private players compete for shots in the same marketplace, and states pay less for the doses, vaccine-makers can reap more profit by selling to the private sector, said Chandrakant Lahariya, a health policy expert.

That cost can then be passed on to people receiving the shots, increasing inequity.

“There is no logic that two different governments should be paying two prices,” he said.

Concerns that pricing issues could deepen inequities are only the most recent hitch in India’s sluggish immunisation efforts.

Less than 2 per cent of the population has been fully immunised against Covid-19 and about 10 per cent have received a single dose.

Immunisation rates have also fallen. The average number of shots per day dipped from over 3.6 million in early April to fewer than 2.5 million now.

In the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, the health minister promised free vaccines for those aged 18-44, but he also acknowledged that the shortage of doses meant immunisation would not start as planned on Saturday. – Reuters/AP