NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reported a record 115,736 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a 13-fold increase in just over two months, raising pressure on the government to expand its vaccination campaign.
Some states, including hardest-hit Maharashtra and Odisha, have complained of a scarcity of vaccines during a second wave that has forced some centres to turn away people.
Only those aged over 45 are now being immunised in India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, which started its campaign with health and other frontline workers in mid-January.
“Vaccination centres have to close early due to a shortage of supplies,” Maharashtra’s health minister, Rajesh Tope, told reporters.
Stocks would run out in three days after the daily injection of over 450,000 doses, he said.
Odisha said it had closed nearly half of its immunisation sites due to the shortfall, with supplies left only for two more days.
India’s health minister said the complaints, mostly from states not ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, were attempts to cover up their failures and spread panic.
“Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and state governments are being apprised regularly about it,” Harsh Vardhan said in a statement.
“Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless.”
To requests from states to widen the immunisation drive to include more adults, he said: “So long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritise.”
Maharashtra has for weeks accounted for over half India’s daily new cases, which on Monday passed 100,000 for the first time. The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as shops and offices reopen.
The western state, Delhi, Punjab and Karnataka have in recent days imposed new curbs, including night curfews.
The federal government has refused to impose any national lockdown. The previous one last year devastated the economy and left millions penniless.
India has recorded 12.8 million cases, the most after the United States and Brazil.
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 630 – the highest in four days – to 166,177, according to health ministry data.
Many states have criticised the government as it has restricted India’s immunisation drive to some 400 million of its 1.35 billion people.
It has so far administered 86 million doses, 90% of those the AstraZeneca shot made by the Serum Institute of India. The rest have come from Indian company Bharat Biotech, which has struggled to boost output of its homegrown shot.
Only the United States and China have administered more doses.
But with the contagion accelerating, India is racing to increase immunity. It has delayed exports of large quantities of vaccines, though 64.5 million doses have already been shipped.
“We are supposed to be the pharmacy of the world,” said a government official who declined to be named. “What kind of pharmacy is this that cannot provide vaccines to even a small portion of its people?”
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Rajendra Jadhav, Rama Venkat, Jatindra Dash, Sanjeev Miglani, Neha Arora, Chandini Monnappa, Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Jartindra Dash; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Simon Cameron-Moore and Timothy Heritage)