Coronavirus infections in the South Asia has surpassed the grim milestone of 15 million on Saturday, a Reuters tally shows. The surge is led by India’s record daily infections and vaccine shortages.

South Asia — India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka — accounts for 11% of global cases and almost 6% of deaths. The region accounts for 23% of the world’s population of 7.59 billion people.

India, the country with the third-highest coronavirus total, accounts for over 84% of South Asia’s cases and deaths.

The world’s second-most populous country reported 145,384 new cases on Saturday, the fastest climb in the world and the country’s fifth record this week, as well as 794 deaths. The government blames the current spike on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks.

India is accounting for one in every six reported infections in its current surge.

While ramping up its vaccination drive, inoculating about 4 million people a day, several states of India said they were rationing doses as the federal government was not refilling stocks in time.

At least 94.1 million people had received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose in southern Asia by Friday, according to figures from Our World in Data.

This is the biggest jump in new infections India has seen since the outbreak of the virus. The country has been clocking in over 100,000 cases for five days now

Pakistan

Pakistan, India’s western neighbor, is the second-hardest hit country in the region, is in its third wave, recording more than 700,000 cases and 15,000 related deaths.

It has seen a sharp rise in cases in the past 10 days. Officials say there are now more people in intensive care than at any other point during the pandemic.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh, India’s eastern neighbor, is reporting about 7,000 cases a day, totaling some 678,937 cases.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given Bangladesh 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Nepal

In Nepal, 288 new cases of the coronavirus infection were registered taking the national tally to 279,388.

Till Friday, 2,306,244 tests through Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method have been carried out in the country wherein 4,071 tests were performed in the last 24 hours.

At present, there are 84 people under quarantine in various facilities across the country. The number of active cases in Nepal is 2,615.

As many as 127 persons earlier diagnosed with the disease have tested negative in the last 24 hours. With the recent addition, the national COVID-19 recovery tally has now reached 273,735.

The country’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 3,038.

The Ministry of Health has recommended the closure of schools for three weeks in densely populated areas like Kathmandu, Pokhara and Parsa, among others, in light of rising Covid-19 cases among schoolchildren and their family members.

“We have recommended shutting down schools for at least three weeks immediately in high risk areas and big cities,” Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post.

According to Adhikari, of the total cases reported in recent days, 14 percent are children. Last year, only four percent of the total infections were children.

About two weeks ago, the Nepal Army-run Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya in Bhaktapur was shut down after some of its students and teachers tested positive for the coronavirus. At least 23 students and some teachers of the school had tested positive.

Covid-19 cases were detected in 40 students at an engineering college in Pokhara a month ago, according to the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.

School operators are yet to agree on closing the schools.

Sri Lanka

The COVID-19 situation in Sri Lanka remains positive and normal although the number of COVID cases spike due to the cluster formed in Jaffna area, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera said.

Addressing a media briefing, he said the surge in COVID-19 cases was reported during the past two days following PCR tests carried out on the first contacts of patients picked from the cluster in the Jaffna area.

“The individuals, who were found to have contracted the virus in the Jaffna area, were from quarantine centers and therefore, there is no risk that the virus could spread in the society. However, there could be more cases emerge from the cluster,” Dr. Samaraweera stressed.

He said they had directed all the state hospitals to inform the Epidemiology Unit about any admission of patients after two weeks of vaccination.

“Accordingly, we have received six cases of blood clots. However, it is yet to be ascertained whether they had links to the direct effect of the vaccine,” he added.

Bhutan

After a brief respite, Bhutan is witnessing a surge in new Covid-19 cases sparking concerns. The country is seeing a rapid rise in the Covid-19 cases beginning this month.

The positive cases, for now, are confined within the safe boundaries of the quarantine facility.

Bhutan on Wednesday said it had given about 60 percent of its entire population a first jab against Covid-19 since the Himalayan kingdom started an ambitious vaccination drive nine days ago.

The tiny nation wedged between India and China told AFP that 470,000 people out of 770,000 in total had been administered the first shot of a two-dose regime of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine donated by India.

Its rapid rollout puts Bhutan far ahead of other leading nations in reaching the 60-percent mark, including the Seychelles, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, according to AFP analysis.

WHO chief criticizes ‘shocking’ global vaccine divide

The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticized what it describes as a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor countries.

The WHO has long called for fairer distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

It is leading the Covax scheme, which is designed to get jabs to poorer nations.

So far, more than 38 million doses have been delivered to around 100 countries under the scheme.

Covax hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. In particular, it wants to ensure that 92 poorer countries will receive access to vaccines at the same time as wealthier countries.

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Friday.

“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a Covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500,” he said.

The Covax scheme had been expected to distribute at least 100 million doses worldwide by the end of March, but only 38 million jabs have been delivered so far.

“We hope to be able to catch up during April and May,” Dr Tedros said.

He also criticized countries that have sought their own vaccine deals outside of the Covax scheme. “Some countries and companies plan to do their own bilateral vaccine donations, bypassing Covax for their own political or commercial reasons,” Dr Tedros said.

“These bilateral arrangements run the risk of fanning the flames of vaccine inequity,” he added. “Scarcity of supply is driving vaccine nationalism.”

Earlier this year, Dr Tedros warned that the world was facing a “catastrophic moral failure” over vaccine inequality. He said a “me-first” approach would be self-defeating because it would encourage hoarding and prolong the pandemic.

Vaccines produced in the UK, U.S., Europe, Russia and China are already being widely used, having been bought up and approved in countries around the world.

But doses have not been shared equally between countries.

Germany plans new harsh Covid-19 restrictions in draft law

Night-time curfews, sweeping business closures and severe limits on public gatherings are all part of the German government’s new bill aimed at “standardizing” Covid-19 measures to stop the third wave, German media report.

Berlin is currently working on amendments to the national Infection Protection Act that would significantly tighten the lockdown restrictions and greatly reduce the federal states’ ability to defy the government’s orders, German media that obtained the draft document report.

The document that is expected to be discussed and potentially approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet on Tuesday includes binding requirements for all federal states where an average seven-day Covid-19 infection rate will rise over 100 per 100,000 people. Such states will no longer be able to find any excuses to avoid imposing the so-called “emergency brake,” the supposed text of the bill, published by Die Welt on Saturday, reads.

All states over this threshold infection rate will be bound to introduce a standard set of measures developed by the federal government, should the legislation come into force. Such measures involve a nighttime curfew between 21:00 and 05:00, with exceptions for medical emergencies, professional activities and for looking after people or animals.

Private and public gatherings would once again be limited to the members of one household and one person outside of it, with children under 14 excluded from this rule.

All non-essential stores and services, including cafes, clubs, museums and sports facilities, as well as shops other than grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations, would be closed. Employers would also have to let their employees work from home if there are no “compelling reasons” for them to stay in the workplace. Universities would switch to distance education, with in-person classes only being allowed if every person attending them presents a negative Covid-19 test result.

Such restrictions could only be lifted if the average seven-day Covid-19 infection numbers remain below the threshold level for three days in a row. The bill would grant the federal government an ability to issue special statutory ordinances – a right previously reserved for the federal states only – to regulate the restrictions and “guarantee nationwide uniform control” over the Covid-19 measures.

If adopted, the new bill will likely affect almost all German federal states. According to the Robert Koch Institute – Germany’s federal agency responsible for disease control and prevention – only three out of 16 federal states have a seven-day incidence rate below 100 per 100,000 people. In the western state of Saarland, this rate is 98.8, which means it can potentially cross the threshold at any moment.

German authorities seemingly aim to implement the new rules as soon as possible. According to some media reports, the bill was agreed-on by the federal cabinet and the states’ governments at short notice and without any deliberations being made public. A video conference between Merkel and the federal states’ heads, originally scheduled for Monday, was cancelled as well.

The German Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble also made it clear that the parliament may decide on the bill as part of an urgent procedure and potentially approve it as early as next week. The legislation will then have to pass through the Bundesrat – another house of the German parliament representing the federal states – and can come into force as early as April 19, some media report.

Germany has been in some form of lockdown since November but is struggling to curb a recent spike in cases linked to the so-called British variant. The Robert Koch Institute recently reported a sharp rise in the number of new cases.

Earlier this week, Merkel also spoke in favor of a short and sharp nationwide lockdown as the head of the Robert Koch Institute said that between two and four weeks of severe restrictions could be necessary to end the third Covid-19 wave.

Austria may buy a million Russian vaccine doses

Austria with a population of almost nine million has recorded more than 570,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 9,600 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Austria may soon be purchasing Russia’s Sputnik V jab to give an “additional turbo boost” to its anti-Covid vaccination drive, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the media in Vienna after negotiations with Moscow concluded.

The negotiations on the contract to acquire Sputnik V have “de facto come to an end,” Kurz announced on Saturday. “It’s now possible to purchase it for us in Austria,” he added.

A “million” doses of the vaccine from Russia, which boasts an efficacy of more than 91% percent and lacks significant side-effects, would provide an “additional turbo boost” to Austria’s immunization campaign, the Chancellor said, without specifying when those supplies might begin.

Kurz also promised to ask questions of the European Union regarding the bloc’s inability to be as fast and efficient as the U.S. and UK in acquiring and approving vaccines against the deadly disease.


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