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Asia today: India records 320,000 cases with the arrival of foreign aid

India added more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus as a dark wave weighing on the country’s sinking health system

NEW DELHI – India registered more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, as a terrible wave of disease and death was raging across the country and its declining health system began to receive much-needed support from foreign nations.

Tuesday’s 323,144 new infections increased India’s total to 17.6 million, second only to the United States. This ended a sequence of five days of recording the biggest single-day increases in any country during the pandemic, but the decline likely reflects less weekend testing, rather than reduced spread of the virus.

The health ministry also recorded another 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours, with about 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. The latest fatalities have increased the number of deaths in India to 197,894, behind the USA, Brazil and Mexico. Experts say that even those numbers are likely to be a lower count.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi posted photos on Tuesday of the first shipment of medical aid that India received from Britain. Includes 100 fans and 95 oxygen concentrators.

Other nations like the USA, Germany, Israel and Pakistan have also pledged medical aid. Countries said they would provide oxygen, diagnostic tests, treatments, ventilators and protective equipment to help India at the time of the crisis, which World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called “beyond distress”.

The increase, spurred by insidious variants of the coronavirus, undermined the Indian government’s premature claims of victory over the pandemic. The country of almost 1.4 billion inhabitants faces a chronic shortage of space in its intensive care wards. Hospitals are facing shortages of oxygen and many people are being forced to resort to improvised facilities for mass burials and cremations.

India’s top health official asked Indians on Monday to wear masks at home to prevent the virus from spreading. “It’s time for people to start wearing masks at home too,” said Dr. V.K. Paul, the head of a government medical emergency preparedness committee.

India has also asked for help from its armed forces. India’s Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, said oxygen supplies would be released from the military’s reserves and that his retired medical personnel would join health facilities to relieve pressure on doctors.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to combat the lack of beds, Indian authorities are turning to train cars, which have been converted into isolation wards. India has also started to transport oxygen tankers to needy states. Special trains with oxygen supplies are also circulating in the country.

France was shipping respirators, ICU equipment and eight oxygen generators in a shipment due to be shipped later this week. Each generator can equip a 250-bed hospital for several years, said the office of French President Emmanuel Macron.

France will also send respirators, pumps and liquid medical oxygen containers to help up to 10,000 patients a day, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first shipment of oxygen is expected to arrive from Europe to India next week.

The White House was moving to share raw materials for the AstraZeneca vaccine, diverting some US orders to the Indian Serum Institute. White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told the Associated Press that the government was working on other orders, namely, personal protective equipment, tests and oxygen supplies.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

Japan will set up a major vaccination center in Tokyo and Osaka in early May, in an attempt to accelerate its snail-paced vaccination campaign so that at least the elderly finish their second vaccines by the end of July, officials said at Tuesday . Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters that a vaccination center in Tokyo will be set up in early May 24 to deliver vaccines for about three months. The details of downtown Osaka are still being decided. Each will use the Modern vaccine, which is expected to be approved by the Ministry of Health in May. Inoculations so far have covered only about 1% of Japanese people. Japan initiated its third state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and two neighboring areas on Sunday to stem the rapid resurgence of the virus three months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Sri Lanka closed schools in the capital and the suburbs on Tuesday for four days and made plans to work from home for public officials to contain a growing outbreak. After weeks reporting less than 300 new cases per day, Sri Lanka confirmed 997 over the past 24 hours. Most were in the district of Colombo, which includes the capital. Health officials warned of an expected increase because people participated in crowded and shopping celebrations during the traditional New Year’s festival that fell on April 14. As of Tuesday, half of the civil servants would be called to the offices, while the rest would work from home. The government has already imposed blockades on almost a dozen villages in different parts of the country.

Philippine authorities are considering whether to extend the month-long blockade in the Manila region amid a terrible increase in cases or to relax it to combat recession, unemployment and hunger. The country recorded more than 1 million cases, including more than 16,800 deaths. A spike last month prompted President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to again impose a blockade in the Manila region, where several hospitals reported being overloaded. Cabinet officials and medical experts are due to meet on Tuesday to recommend whether the blockade should be continued, and Duterte may announce the decision on Wednesday.

Australia will suspend flights from India for two weeks due to the increase in the virus. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced that Australia will provide India with 509 ventilators and 100 oxygen concentrators with tanks, as well as personal protective equipment. Morrison said more help would come. Morrison last week announced plans to cut the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from India by 30%. But the number of travelers tested positive in the Australian hotel quarantine jumped from 90 to 143 in a week, Morrison said.

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