Alarm grows as India’s Covid-19 crisis escalates

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SUN REPORTER writes

INDIA made history as the number of coronavirus cases surged to 19.5 million with 392,488 new infections, government data showed. The Asian country has become the first country to cross 400,000 daily cases of Covid-19.

The impact of this spike in infections serves as a warning for Zambia – that is currently seeing manageable numbers of daily infections.

Minister of Health Jonas Chanda says despite a reduction in the number of new Covid-19 cases, health facilities were seeing more critically ill patients being admitted.

Zambia has continued to observe a stagnation in the number of cases requiring hospitalisation, with a slight increase in admissions and critical cases noted in the past few days.

Dr. Chanda says the development is a reminder of the fact that community transmission is still on-going and people remain at risk of contracting the disease.

In a statement issued to ZANIS in Lusaka, the Minister encouraged health workers to maintain a high index of suspicion even in spite of the reduced numbers of cases being recorded in order to timely isolate and treat cases while ensuring that the chains of transmission are broken.

And Dr. Chanda indicated that as the Ministry continues with setting up of community vaccination sites, 236 vaccination site across the country have been set up with a target of setting up at least 50 more sites.

“As part of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, we have also continued to closely monitor any reports of adverse effects following immunization through the Zambia Medical Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA),” the Minister stated.

Africa is “watching with total disbelief” as India struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the continent’s top public health official said Thursday, as African officials worry about delays in vaccine deliveries caused by India’s crisis.

According to the Associated Press, the African continent, with roughly the same population as India and fragile health systems, “must be very, very prepared” since a similar scenario could happen here, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.

“What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent,” he said, and urged African countries to avoid mass gatherings including political rallies. “We do not have enough health care workers, we do not have enough oxygen,” he warned.

The second wave of the coronavirus has pushed India’s health care system to the brink of collapse, with hospitals at full capacity and an acute shortage of oxygen aggravating an already desperate situation. Many parks and parking lots have been converted into makeshift crematories that are working day and night to burn dead bodies.

Yesterday, India recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic yet, with 3,689 deaths in 24 hours.

Sunday was the fourth straight day India recorded more than 3,000 deaths as the second wave of the pandemic carries on unabated and keeps setting grim new records. Altogether 215,542 people have died from Covid-19 in the country.

Indian public health experts have blamed the spread on more contagious variants of the virus, plus the easing of restrictions on large crowds when the outbreak appeared to be under control earlier this year.

Africa’s vaccine supply heavily relies on India, whose Serum Institute is the source of the AstraZeneca vaccines distributed by the global COVAX project to get doses to low- and middle-income countries. India’s export ban on vaccines “has severely impacted the predictability of the rollout of vaccination programs and will continue to do so for the coming weeks and perhaps months,” Nkengasong said.

“We are living in a world that is extremely uncertain now,” he added.

Just 17 million vaccine doses have been administered across the African continent for a population of some 1.3 billion, according to the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

The situation in India is “very sad to observe,” the World Health Organisation’s Africa chief told reporters in a separate briefing. “We are very concerned about the delays that are coming in the availability of vaccines,” Matshidiso Moeti added.

Her WHO colleague, Phionah Atuhebwe, called the delay “quite devastating for everybody” and said most African nations that received their first vaccine doses via COVAX will reach a “gap” in supply while waiting for second doses as early as May or June.

“We call upon countries that have extra doses to do their part,” Atuhebwe said, adding that the WHO is reviewing the Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines this week.

One unexpected Covid-19 vaccine donor is Congo, which Nkengasong said wants to give back some 1.3 million doses so they can be distributed to other African nations since it hasn’t been able to do it at home.

There is “a lot of vaccine hesitancy” in the vast country, Nkengasong said. He didn’t immediately know how many people have received the doses there.

There is a five-week timeline to get the doses administered elsewhere, he said, and Congo is working with COVAX to hand them over. He expressed hope that the doses can reach other people quickly during what he called “an extremely critical time.”

Nkengasong didn’t know of other African countries saying they’re unable to use their doses but he urged them not to wait until the last moment to hand them back. Other countries in Europe, North America and Asia “can have their luxury” of vaccine options, he said, but “we do not have choices.”

Moeti with the WHO commended Congo for its decision, calling it “extremely wise of the government to make this estimation” in a country with gaps in its health care system.

She also warned that African countries must step up key public health measures to help avoid India’s scenario occurring here. The rate of testing for the coronavirus has dropped in “quite a few countries,” she said, and mentioned seeing data from one African nation in which the proportion of people not wearing face masks has risen to almost 80%.

Only 43 million tests for the virus have been conducted across the African continent since the pandemic began, the Africa CDC chief said, with a 26% drop in new tests conducted in the past week.

Nkengasong warned against travel bans, however, after Kenya this week announced it will suspend all passenger flights to and from India for two weeks starting midnight Saturday, while cargo flights continue.

“It’s really unfortunate we are reacting in a very ad hoc manner in respect to flight movements,” he said, emphasizing the strength of authentic negative PCR tests. “It’s not people who are a threat, it’s the virus.”

Health minister Jonas Chanda has urged the general public to continue adhering to Covid-19 public health guidelines and measures of masking up, washing hands, maintaining physical distance, avoiding crowding and staying home and seeking medical attention early.

He further encouraged all eligible Zambians to access the vaccine voluntarily and timely, noting that all countries and communities are at risk of Covid-19 transmission due to increased interactions between people following the lifting of sanctions on travel.

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