Relentless new wave sends India Covid death toll past 200 000
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India's coronavirus death toll crossed 200 000 on Wednesday as a relentless wave of new cases swamped hospitals and sent desperate families out into the streets of the capital in search of oxygen supplies and medicine.
Infection and death rates are soaring in the vast country of 1.3 billion, in contrast with the United States and some European nations taking tentative steps back towards normal life.
The virus has now killed more than 3.1 million people worldwide, with India driving the latest surge, recording 360 000 new infections - a global record - and over 3,000 deaths on Wednesday.
In the capital New Delhi, car parks have been converted to crematoriums and the soaring body count has sparked a shortage of wood for funeral pyres.
Desperate relatives of the sick are crowding outside hospitals and pharmacies in search of treatment and medicines, often in vain.
Arriving in cars, rickshaws and ambulances, patients and their families desperate for oxygen flocked to a tent outside a Sikh place of worship on the outskirts of the capital this week.
Priyanka Mandal, 30, had been searching for oxygen for her mother since she became sick a week ago.
"Medicines are also not available... I've visited five, six big medical stores," she told AFP.
"No matter how much time it takes, I have to wait here... I only have my mum."
Despite the rising cases, on Tuesday around 25,000 people took part in the final bathing day at the Kumbh Mela religious gathering in the northern town of Haridwar, drawn to the banks of the Ganges by an "auspicious" full moon, festival official Harbeer Singh told AFP.
The gathering has attracted millions of pilgrims, mostly without masks, sparking criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist government for allowing it to go ahead.
A variant of the virus feared to be contributing to the catastrophic wave in India has now been found in more than a dozen countries, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
Many nations have rushed to help, sending desperately needed oxygen and aid.
As part of the global effort, Singapore said Wednesday it had sent two plane-loads of oxygen supplies.
India also appears to be a leading contender for some of the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses the United States has said it will export.
Despite the crisis worsening in India and other parts of Asia, the Asian Development Bank on Wednesday raised its growth forecast for developing countries in the region.
China and India are expected to lead the rebound across the vast continent, the lender said, but it cautioned that vaccine rollouts were lagging.
By the end of March, developing Asia had administered 5.2 doses per 100 people, it said - trailing the global average of about eight doses per 100.
In the United States, President Joe Biden hailed America's "stunning" progress against the virus, as the country's premier health agency said Americans who had been vaccinated would no longer need to wear masks outdoors.
"While we still have a long way to go in this fight, a lot of work to do in May and June to get us to July 4, we've made stunning progress," Biden said, referencing Independence Day as a milestone date in the battle against the pandemic.
In Brazil - which has the highest death toll behind the United States - the Senate opened an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic by Jair Bolsonaro's government, as fatalities surged to nearly 400 000 and a scramble for vaccines continued.
Bolsonaro has brazenly defied expert advice on the virus at virtually every turn, attacking lockdowns, resisting vaccines and touting drugs such as hydroxychloroquine that researchers say are ineffective, and shunning masks.
Permission to rock
But in Spain scientists said the humble face covering could be a key element in bringing back live music events.
Results from a trial indoor concert held in Barcelona last month were released Tuesday, and showed only six people out of 5,000 revellers had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Ahead of the show, everyone underwent mass screening and antigen tests, the crowd wore masks and capacity at bathrooms was limited, but there was no assigned seating or mandatory social distancing.
"There is no sign that suggests transmission took place during the event," said Josep Maria Llibre, an infectious diseases expert.
"We can say that it was not a super-spreading event."