COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting with alarming speed in India with no end in sight to the crisis, and a top public health expert is warning of hard weeks ahead.
India’s official count of coronavirus cases surpassed 20 million on Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially have passed 220,000. Staggering as those numbers are, the true figures are believed to be far higher, the undercount an apparent reflection of the troubles in the health-care system.
On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours and 3,449 deaths from COVID-19.
Infections have been increasing in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies before state elections.
The challenges are steep in states where elections were held and unmasked crowds likely worsened the spread of the virus. The average number of daily infections in West Bengal state has increased by a multiple of 32 to over 17,000 since the balloting began.
“It’s a terrifying crisis,” said Dr. Punyabrata Goon, convener of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum.
Goon also said that the state needs to hasten immunizations. But the world’s largest maker of vaccines is short of shots — the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in the United States, said he is concerned that Indian policymakers he has been in contact with believe things will improve in the next few days.
“I’ve been … trying to say to them, ‘If everything goes very well, things will be horrible for the next several weeks. And it may be much longer,'” he said.
Jha said the focus needs to be on “classic” public health measures: targeted shutdowns, more testing, universal mask-wearing and avoiding large gatherings.
“That is what’s going to break the back of this surge,” he said.
India’s top health official, Rajesh Bhushan, refused to speculate last month as to why authorities weren’t better prepared.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
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As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 1,243,257 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 83,548 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 24,342.
In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 146 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, as Premier Iain Rankin criticized the “selfish few” who were breaking the rules as the province works to clamp down on transmission.
New Brunswick on Monday reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new cases — as well as one more aboard a cargo ship. There were no new cases reported on Prince Edward Island.
In Quebec, health officials on Monday reported 798 new cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 588, with 151 people in intensive care.
Ontario, which on Monday reported 3,436 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths, is asking a federal vaccine advisory group to look into the possibility of mixing first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses. The province’s associate medical officer of health says officials have asked for recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
According to provincial health officials, hospitalizations stood at 1,925, with 889 in ICU due to COVID-related illness.
WATCH | Questions around NACI advice for Johnson & Johnson vaccine:
Alberta on Monday reported 2,012 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said there were 23,608 active cases in Alberta. There were 658 people in hospital because of the illness, including 154 in intensive care.
Across the North, health officials in Nunavut reported eight new cases, while seven new cases were reported in the Northwest Territories. There was one new case reported in Yukon.
British Columbia health officials on Monday reported 2,174 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths between Friday and Monday.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 153.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been recorded around the world, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.2 million.
In the Middle East, Kuwait’s government is barring unvaccinated residents from travelling abroad starting later this month, the latest attempt to tame the spiraling coronavirus outbreak in the Gulf Arab sheikhdom.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan became the latest place to ban arrivals from India, as it moves to prevent new infections, with more nations reporting cases of a variant first identified in the subcontinent.
In Africa, Tanzania announced new anti-coronavirus measures, saying it wanted to prevent the importation of new variants.
In Europe, Germans who are fully vaccinated should be exempt from quarantine on re-entering Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn said after the government cabinet discussed plans to lift restrictions for people who have had their shots.
In the Americas, Mexico hopes to finish vaccinating its entire population against COVID-19 by the end of next year’s first quarter, Mexico’s deputy health minister, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said.
Trinidad and Tobago said on Monday it was tightening lockdown restrictions for three weeks starting at midnight as the number of new COVID-19 cases hit new highs and the Caribbean twin-island nation faces a potential shortage of hospital beds.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET