India announced on Wednesday that its vaccination program will be expanded but warned that breaches of COVID-19 protocols might worsen an infection surge in several states.
Almost a month after the health minister declared that coronavirus had been contained, states such as Maharashtra (west) and Kerala (south) have seen cases spiraling, as reluctance grows over mask-wearing and social distancing.
India’s infections are the second highest in the world at 11.03 million, swelled in the past 24 hours by 13,742, according to health ministry data. Deaths rose by a 2-week high of 104 to 156,567.
“Any laxity in implementing tough measures to curb the spread, especially in view of new strains of virus … could compound the situation,” the ministry said in a statement singling out nine states and a federal territory.
The country has confirmed the long-time presence of 2 mutant variants – N440K and E484Q – in addition to those first detected in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.
The ministry said that while cases in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, as well as the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, were increasing, the proportion of high-accuracy RT-PCR tests in those places was falling. Cases have also risen in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
In the past week, a third of India’s 36 states and union territories have reported an average of at least 100 new cases per day, with Kerala and Maharashtra both reporting more than 4,000, in a trend experts link to the reopening of schools and suburban train services.
The cabinet has also asked states to expedite vaccinations for healthcare and frontline workers. Just about 11 million people have received 1 or 2 doses in a campaign that kicked off on Jan. 16, versus a target of 300 million by August.
From March 1, India will start vaccinating people above 60 and those older than 45 with health conditions free of charge in nearly 10,000 government hospitals and for a fee in more than 20,000 private facilities, the cabinet said.
Earlier today, a regulatory panel sought more data from drugmaker Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories for emergency authorization of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, said a senior official with direct knowledge of the talks.