India on Saturday reported a daily record of 145,384 new cases as the coronavirus raced out of control. Deaths, while still relatively low, are rising. Vaccinations, a mammoth task in such a large nation, are dangerously behind schedule. Hospital beds are running short.
Parts of the country are reinforcing lockdowns. Scientists are rushing to track new versions of the virus, including the more hazardous variants first discovered in Britain and South Africa, that may be hastening the spread. But the authorities have declared contact tracing in some places to be simply impossible.
Politicians in India, still stinging from the economic pain of the last national lockdown, have mostly avoided major restrictions and have even returned to holding big election rallies, sending mixed messages to the public. India’s vaccine rollout was late and riddled with setbacks, despite the country’s status as a major pharmaceutical manufacturer.
Now India, once a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, has curtailed shipments to focus on the country’s own needs, delaying vaccination campaigns in many other countries.
When the coronavirus first struck India last year, the country enforced one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns. Though damaging and ultimately flawed, the lockdown and other efforts seemed to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus. The number of infections fell and deaths from the virus remained low. Officials and the public dropped their guard. Experts warned fruitlessly that the government’s haphazard approach would bring a crisis when a new wave appeared.
Complacency and government missteps have since turned India from a seeming success story into one of the world’s worst-hit places, experts say. And epidemiologists warn that continuing failure in India would have global implications.
“India’s size is going to dominate the global numbers — how the world performs on Covid is going to be very dependent on how India performs on Covid,” said Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, the director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, with headquarters in Washington and New Delhi. “If it is not over in India, it is not really over in the world.”
The government is keeping nearly all of the 2.4 million vaccine doses that the Serum Institute of India, a private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day. Only 6.3 percent of India’s population has been at least partially vaccinated.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that Covax, a global initiative dedicated to distributing Covid-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, has only delivered 38 million doses so far. That falls far short of the 100 million doses it had expected to distribute by now.
“Most countries do not have anywhere near enough vaccines to cover all health workers, or all at-risk groups, never mind the rest of their populations,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O. “There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines.”
Scientists have warned that poorer nations could wait years for Covid-19 shots, threatening to prolong the pandemic as the virus continues to spread and possibly mutate across the world. About 83 percent of shots administered worldwide have gone to people in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while just 0.1 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries, according to a New York Times vaccine tracker.
The AstraZeneca shot has also run into complications in Europe, a blow to the more than 100 countries relying on the shot to counter a growing surge in cases. The shot is far less expensive and easier to store than other available vaccines, making it the world’s most widely…