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April 11, 2021

The number of new coronavirus infections in India surged this week, making its outbreak the fastest-growing in the world as it struggles with widespread vaccine shortages and a low vaccination rate.
India reported 145,384 new coronavirus cases Saturday, the fifth time this week that the country set a new daily infection record, following more than a month of precipitously increasing case counts, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

 

Daily coronavirus case counts in India are now larger than in any other country, far surpassing previous frontrunners Brazil (which reported about 93,000 new cases Saturday) and the United States (at just under 83,000 new cases).

 

Still, India has averaged about 84.2 new cases per million residents over the past week, a much lower rate than less populous countries like the United States (205.1) and Brazil (311.2), per statistics from Oxford’s Our World In Data project.

Deaths in India have also gradually climbed in recent weeks, reaching 794 on Saturday, which is significantly lower than in Brazil (3,693) and the United States (958) and still below India’s September peak.

Hard-hit states like Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, imposed weekend lockdowns starting Friday, aiming to curb infections as hospitals in the densely populated state overflow with sick patients and run low on oxygen.

Local experts say India’s cases are surging partly because many people have stopped following social distancing guidelines and returned to normal routines, and the federal government is unwilling to reimpose last year’s strict national lockdowns.

The share of India’s population that has received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose is a measly 6.3%, according to government figures. The country’s vaccination rate is lagging behind wealthier countries with severe coronavirus outbreaks like Mexico (7%), Brazil (9.5%) and the United States (34.5%), per data compiled by Bloomberg.

India is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines, with the Serum Institute of India exporting tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, yet the country is grappling with painful shortages at home. India’s vaccination campaign has sped up in recent weeks, but vaccine clinics still reportedly don’t have enough shots to keep up with demand. 

India sharply limited exports of AstraZeneca’s vaccine last month, in an effort to focus on its own supply issues. This could slow deliveries in wealthy countries like the United Kingdom, but it will pose especially serious delays for poorer countries, many of which are reliant on AstraZeneca doses from the COVAX international vaccine subsidy program.

“The globe needs this vaccine,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, said Tuesday. “We are prioritizing the needs of India at the moment, and we are still short of being able to supply to every Indian that needs it.”

Vaccine shortages are not unique to India. Well-heeled places like the United States and Europe have vaccinated their populations far more quickly than low and middle-income countries, partly because they pre-ordered hundreds of millions of doses last year. So far, about 87% of the world’s vaccine supplies have gone to wealthy or upper-middle-income countries, the World Health Organization said Friday, while many African countries have secured enough doses to immunize less than 1% of their populations.