India infections top 20 million, top cricket league suspended

Tuesday May 04 2021
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A family member carries a patient breathing with the help of oxygen being provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along the roadside amid Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in Ghaziabad on May 4, 2021. PHOTO/AFP

By AFP

India's coronavirus caseload topped 20 million on Tuesday as the relentless surge finally forced the suspension of the nation's lucrative cricket competition involving some of the sport's biggest global stars.

The South Asian nation's plight was in stark contrast to Europe and the United States, where mass vaccinations have allowed the easing of many coronavirus restrictions.

India's virus caseload surged past 20 million with more than 350,000 new cases reported on Tuesday while it recorded 3,449 new deaths, higher than anywhere else.

But the number of new infections fell from the peak of 402,000 last week, giving some cause for optimism that the worst of the devastating wave may have passed.

India's healthcare infrastructure has struggled to cope. Rickshaw driver Mohammad Javed Khan in the central city of Bhopal turned his vehicle into a makeshift ambulance after he saw people carrying patients to hospitals on their backs as they were too poor to afford one.

"Even when (people) call ambulances, the ambulances are charging 5,000-10,000 rupees ($70-140)," said Khan, who sold his wife's jewellery to equip the rickshaw with medical equipment.

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Bihar, a state of around 120 million people, on Tuesday became the latest Indian region to impose a lockdown.

Following criticism, the Indian Premier League, the world's richest Twenty20 cricket tournament, was suspended on Tuesday and its players sent home.

Organisers said they did not want to compromise the safety of staff and players, including some of the world's biggest cricket stars from India, Australia, England and New Zealand.

The wave in India -- spurred by huge gatherings including the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela -- has highlighted the danger of Covid-19, which has already claimed more than 3.2 million lives worldwide.

Religious events are a threat in neighbouring Pakistan too, where authorities are battling a third wave of infections and urging Muslims to observe precautions during the holy month of Ramadan.

Despite the warnings, thousands of Shia Muslims –- many not wearing masks -- gathered in the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday for an annual religious procession.

Quarter of EU jabbed 

The situation in South Asia contrasts with the European Union, where a quarter of the population has now received at least one vaccine dose.

The milestone prompted EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to say the bloc is on track to have 70 percent of adults immunised by late July.

European leaders are looking to take further steps towards recovery with a proposal to revive international travel and tourism as early as next month.

The European Commission has proposed that travellers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved shots or those coming from countries where Covid-19 is under control should be allowed to enter the bloc.

The European Union has so far approved the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The EU medicines watchdog said it has now started reviewing China's Sinovac jab for possible approval.

As Denmark reopens for business, restaurants, bars and other establishments are to ask customers to present certificates they have tested negative for the virus in the previous 72 hours, been vaccinated or have recently recovered from the disease.

Germany is moving toward easing curbs for people who are fully vaccinated, even if Munich's Oktoberfest autumn beer festival has been cancelled for a second year running.

Further south, the Monaco Grand Prix is to due to be held in late May with 7,500 spectators.

Americans are among those eyeing possible European vacations this summer, with more than 100 million people in the United States now fully vaccinated. 

Curbs are now being eased in many parts of the world's biggest economy.

US media reported that authorities were expected to authorise the Pfizer shot for children aged 12 and up.

With surging demand, Pfizer now estimates 2021 revenues of $26 billion from the vaccine, up from $15 billion previously, and it also sees profits rising.

China tourism surge

In China, where the virus first emerged in 2019, millions of people have flocked to domestic tourist attractions with the country's outbreak largely under control.

Beijing's historic alleyways were packed with camera-wielding visitors Tuesday, after out-of-towners also mobbed popular sites in Shanghai over the weekend.

But Singapore announced new restrictions including a ban on spectators at sporting events as infections rise in the wealthy Asian city-state.

In hard-hit Brazil, vaccine shortages have forced several large cities to suspend administering second doses of the Chinese-developed CoronaVac shot.

And Tanzania announced new measures on Tuesday, with travellers entering the country now needing to show proof of a negative test taken 72 hours before arrival.

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