A woman wearing a mask against Covid-19 as a precaution stands in a crowded area near India Gate in New Delhi on March 19, 2021 as coronavirus cases continue to rise across India.
Money sharma | AFP | Getty Images
India’s Covid-19 cases soared to daily record highs in April, and experts warn that the country’s deepening health crisis could undo efforts to end the global pandemic.
The South Asian country, which is home to around 1.4 billion people, or 18% of the world’s population, was responsible for 46% of new Covid cases worldwide last week, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday. One in four deaths in the past week came from India, the UN health department said.
India has reported more than 300,000 new cases daily for the past two weeks, overtaking Brazil in April to become the second worst infected country in the world. According to the Ministry of Health, the cumulative coronavirus infections in India reached around 20.67 million on Wednesday with more than 226,000 deaths. However, several studies of India’s data found that cases were likely severely underreported.
There are already Signs that India’s outbreak is spreading to other countries. Neighbors Nepal and Sri Lanka have also reported spikes in infections, while other regional economies such as Hong Kong and Singapore have imported Covid cases from India.
So the coronavirus crisis in India could turn into a bigger global problem.
Possible new Covid variants
Prolonged large outbreaks in any country could increase the possibility of new variants of Covid-19, health experts warned. Some of the variants could elude immune responses triggered by vaccines and previous infections.
“Here’s the bottom line: we know there are variations in major outbreaks. And so far our vaccines are holding up, we’re seeing a few breakthrough infections, but not a lot,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, told CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith”.
“But India is a big country, and of course if there are big outbreaks there we will all be concerned about other variants that are bad for Indians and of course spread around the world,” he added.
India first discovered variant B.1.617 in October last year – also known as the “double mutant”. The variant has now been reported in at least 17 countries, including the US, UK and Singapore.
The WHO has classified the B.1.617 as an interesting variant, suggesting that the mutated strain may be more contagious, deadly, and more resistant to current vaccines and treatments. The organization said more study is needed to understand the meaning of the variant.
Global vaccine supply at risk
India is a major vaccine maker, but the domestic health crisis has prompted authorities to stop exporting Covid-19 vaccines as the country prioritizes its domestic needs.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) – the country’s main producer – has the right to manufacture the Covid vaccine jointly developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Part of the production is planned for Covax, the global initiative to supply poor countries with Covid vaccines.
Developing countries are lagging behind advanced countries in securing vaccine supplies in what the WHO has called a “shocking imbalance” in distribution.
Delaying vaccine exports through India could therefore leave lower-income countries vulnerable to new coronavirus outbreaks.
Threat to the global economy
India is the sixth largest economy in the world and is a major contributor to global growth.
Some economists have downgraded their growth forecasts for India. However, they remained optimistic about the outlook for the economy for the year as the restrictions to curb the spread of the virus were more targeted compared to the strict nationwide lockdown last year.
The International Monetary Fund expected the Indian economy to grow 12.5% in the fiscal year ended March 2022 last month, after shrinking 8% in the previous fiscal year.
However, the renewed outbreak in India has resulted in several countries tightening travel restrictions – and that’s bad news for airlines, airports and other companies that depend on the travel industry, said Uma Kambhampati, an economics professor at the University of Reading in the USA United Kingdom
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned that India’s health crisis could weigh on the U.S. economy, Reuters reported. According to the report, many U.S. companies are hiring millions of Indian workers to perform their back office operations.
“With all these problems and the spreading humanitarian crisis, it has become imperative for the world to act quickly to help India, whether or not such aid is requested,” said Kambhampati in a report published on The Conversation has been published. Profit website with comments from academics and researchers.
Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that the World Health Organization said India caused 46% of the new Covid cases worldwide over the past week. Due to an editing bug, an earlier version of the story misrepresented the timeframe.