US, Britain rush supplies to virus-stricken India

AFP , Monday 26 Apr 2021

A surge in recent days has seen patients' families taking to social media to beg for oxygen supplies and locations of available hospital beds, and has forced the capital New Delhi to extend a week-long lockdown

India: coronavirus wave. AP
Family members put flowers as they perform the last rites for a COVID-19 victim at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Sunday, April 25, 2021. (AP Photo)

The US and Britain rushed ventilators and vaccine materials to India Monday as the country battles a catastrophic, record-breaking coronavirus wave that has overwhelmed hospitals and set crematoriums working at full capacity.

A surge in recent days has seen patients' families taking to social media to beg for oxygen supplies and locations of available hospital beds, and has forced the capital New Delhi to extend a week-long lockdown.

The country of 1.3 billion has become the latest hotspot of a pandemic that has killed more than three million people, even as richer countries take steps towards normality with quickening inoculation programmes.

Irfan Salmani told AFP he had been going from hospital to hospital around Delhi for the past three days, searching for oxygen for his sister.

"I've never seen anything so terrible," he said. "I've been trying non-stop."

"What can I do?... I've just been facing rejection after rejection."

France, Germany and Canada have also pledged support to India, which has driven increases in global case numbers in recent days, recording 352,991 new infections and 2,812 deaths on Monday -- its highest tolls since the start of the pandemic.

Creaking health facilities in poorer countries were exposed Sunday when more than 80 people died as fire ripped through a Baghdad hospital for Covid-19 patients, sparking outrage and the suspension of top Iraqi officials.

Thailand enforced new restrictions Monday after a record daily death toll over the weekend, while the capital of neighbouring Cambodia has been under lockdown for 12 days as cases spike.

- Vaccine surplus-

The first of nine airline container-loads of supplies from the UK, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators, was set to arrive in India early Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, pledging the UK would do "all it can" to help.

The White House said it was making vaccine-production material, therapeutics, tests, ventilators and protective equipment immediately available to India.

But it did not mention whether it would send any of the 30 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses it currently holds in surplus, sparking accusations of hoarding.

India's Hindu-nationalist government is facing growing criticism for allowing mass gatherings across the country in recent weeks, with millions attending religious festivals and thronging political rallies.

The glitzy Indian Premier League is also under pressure, with a leading newspaper suspending coverage and slamming the IPL's decision to keep playing cricket as "commercialism gone crass".

The league suffered further blows Monday as Australians Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson became the latest players to leave after star India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin withdrew to support his family during the pandemic.

On Sunday, Twitter confirmed it withheld dozens of tweets -- including from opposition lawmakers -- critical of the government's handling crisis after a legal demand from New Delhi.

- Fiji funeral-

Japan's annual "Golden Week" holiday got under way with new restrictions in Tokyo and Osaka, where shopping malls and department stores were asked to close and residents urged to avoid non-essential travel.

Bars and restaurants selling alcohol have also been asked to shut early during the week -- usually Japan's busiest travel period -- which comes just under three months before the pandemic-postponed Olympics are due to start.

Fiji's capital Suva entered a 14-day lockdown Monday after detecting the first community transmission cases in 12 months following a funeral.

The tourism-dependent islands have recorded fewer than 100 cases and just two deaths in a population of 930,000, and the moves comes as a huge blow for hopes of opening quarantine-free travel bubbles with Australia and New Zealand.

But Americans dreaming of Paris or Florence were given some hope when EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said US tourists vaccinated against Covid-19 would be able to visit the European Union in the coming months.

She gave no timetable, but told the New York Times that the new rules could be in place by this summer.

- 'In the flesh!' -

Motor racing fans also got a boost with the news a limited number of spectators could be allowed to attend the Monaco Grand Prix in May, Formula One chief executive officer Stefano Domenicali said Sunday.

And another limited glimpse of pre-pandemic life was on display in the US, at an Oscars ceremony reuniting some of Hollywood's A-listers -- unmasked and vaccinated -- for the first time in more than a year.

"We're here, isn't it crazy?" said best actor nominee and "Sound of Metal" star Riz Ahmed.

"Human beings in the flesh!"

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