NEW DELHI: Indian hospitals ordered oxygen on Friday, when the country’s coronavirus got out of control, while Japan imposed a state of emergency in some areas just three months before the Olympics.
COVID-19 spikes are putting great pressure on health systems worldwide, with no end in sight for a pandemic that has killed more than three million people.
With governments running to speed up vaccine campaigns, good news came on Friday, when US regulators approved the resumption of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations interrupted due to blood clotting problems and the EU said it would have enough injections by the end of July to inoculate 70% of adults.
The Brussels announcement came at a time when Europe’s drug regulator said the benefits of the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine increased with age – and reiterated that the vaccine should be taken despite links to rare blood clots.
But in India, health facilities have sounded the alarm about providing oxygen to patients with ventilatory support.
“SOS – oxygen supplies for less than an hour at Max Smart Hospital and Max Hospital Saket,” said on Twitter one of the largest private hospital chains in Delhi.
“More than 700 inpatients need immediate assistance”.
The country reported on Friday more than 330,000 new infections – a world record – and 2,000 deaths in a single day.
To compound the misery, 13 COVID patients died in Mumbai when a fire broke out in their hospital – the latest in a series of fires in Indian healthcare facilities.
Many parts of the country have now tightened restrictions, with the capital blocked and all non-essential services banned in Maharashtra. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 240 million people live, will be paralyzed this weekend.
Other countries have closed their doors to India, fearing a new variant spreading rapidly in the country. The United Arab Emirates on Thursday became the last country to impose restrictions, while Canada suspended flights from India and Pakistan.
‘Strong sense of crisis’
Many countries are seeing new waves of the virus, despite vaccine programs gaining ground.
Japan on Friday declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions, just three months before the country hosted the Olympics.
“Today we have decided to declare a state of emergency in the prefectures of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo,” announced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, citing the rise in infections involving new virus variants.
The country’s minister for virus response, Yasutoshi Nishimura, previously warned of a “strong sense of crisis”, saying the current restrictions were not enough.
The measure will be valid from April 25 to May 11, coinciding with the annual holiday of Golden Week, Japan’s busiest travel period.
Authorities want bars and restaurants to stop selling alcoholic beverages or close, and close major commercial facilities, such as shopping malls.
Spectators will also be prevented from participating in sporting events, which may continue behind closed doors, and remote work will be encouraged.
Booster vaccine from the EU
Governments were fighting new waves elsewhere.
Russia announced on Friday that it would impose a 10-day rest period in early May to stem the spread of the virus, a departure from the government’s approach to intervention in recent months.
Russia has been hit hard by COVDI-19, with state statistics agency Rosstat reporting more than 224,000 virus-related deaths – more than double the 107,501 that health officials reported on Friday.
If correct, the Rosstat number would mean that Russia has the third highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, after the United States and Brazil.
Countries are now looking to vaccines as the way out of the pandemic, as populations tire of the restrictions of the start-stop virus.
US health regulators agreed to the recommendation to resume vaccination using Johnson & Johnson’s injection because its potential risks of clotting were outweighed by its protection against the virus.
According to data presented on Friday, 3.9 million women in the United States who received the Johnson & Johnson injection, 15 developed severe blood clots and three died. Most patients were less than 50 years old. There were no reported cases among men.
In the meantime, the EU has said it will have enough vaccines for the majority of its adult population by the summer.
“I am confident that we will have enough doses to vaccinate 70% of all adults in the EU as early as July,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The EU chief had already set a target for the end of September for the target, but announced the new date during a visit to a Belgian vaccine factory that is increasing production at Pfizer / BioNTech.
Europe has been plagued by problems with vaccines, first failing to secure the necessary supplies and then related to safety issues, mainly around the injection of AstraZeneca after the emergence of links with blood clots.
Meanwhile, New Zealand has paused its newly opened travel bubble with Australia, after a COVID-19 case was confirmed in the larger country.
The two practically coronavirus-free neighbors opened their travel bubble without quarantine on Sunday, almost 400 days after closing their borders.
The move was hailed as an important milestone in the restart of a global travel industry that was plagued by the pandemic.