Daily Covid-19 deaths surged past 4,000 for the first time in India yesterday, as Europe passed the ball back to Washington in a debate over Covid vaccine patents, pushing the US for a concrete proposal and a commitment to export much-needed jabs.
The call for waivers has gained momentum after the United States announced its surprise support for such a scheme to enable adequate vaccine supplies to fight the raging pandemic.
India now accounts for nearly half of the world's new known cases according to an AFP database, and it reported a national record 4,187 new deaths yesterday.
The surge has forced new restrictive measures in India.
Tamil Nadu, known for its automobile manufacturing including BMW, Daimler, Hyundai, Ford , Nissan and Renault, said it would move from a partial to a full lockdown tomorrow, shutting public transport and state-run alcohol retailers.
Neighbouring Karnataka state extended a total shutdown late on Friday. The state capital Bengaluru is a major tech hub, home to major offices of companies including Google, Amazon and Cisco.
India is yet to impose a national lockdown as it did during its first wave last year, but around half of all its states have imposed a total shutdown. The rest are under a partial shutdown.
Meanwhile, India's drug regulator on Friday approved for emergency use a new drug called 2-deoxy-D-glucose after clinical trials showed it aided the recovery of hospitalized patients and reduced dependence on supplemental oxygen.
The drug was jointly developed by India's state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation and Hyderabad-based Dr.Reddy's Laboratories Ltd.
Considering the situation, India yesterday relaxed rules to get services from hospitals.
A coronavirus test report is no longer needed to get hospitalised, the government said in its revised guidelines that make sure that those suffering from Covid get "prompt, effective and comprehensive treatment".
The new measures also stress that "no patient will be refused on any count".
India reported more than 400,000 new infections yesterday, but many experts suspect the official death and case numbers are a gross underestimate.
NEW COMPLICATION FROM COVID
Adding a new area of concern for doctors, at least eight Covid-19 survivors have died due to mucormycosis, a fungal infection, during treatment in western Indian state of Maharashtra, a senior official said yesterday.
Tatyarao Lahane, who heads the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER) in Mumbai, said cases of mucormycosis are on the rise and 200 such patients are already there in the state.
"Eight out of 200 such patients treated so far in various parts of the state have died due to mucormycosis, also known as a black fungus. They survived Covid-19 infection but the fungal infection attacked their weak immune system which proved fatal," Lahane said.
Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi too has reported six cases of Covid-induced mucormycosis, according to senior ENT surgeon at the hospital Manish Munjal.
Munjal said it is this infection that led to high mortality last year, adding that many patients suffered from loss of eyesight and also underwent removal of nose and the jaw bone.
"We are seeing a rise again in this dangerous fungal infection by Covid-19," he said.
Vinod K Paul, who heads India's Covid vaccination committee, had on Friday said mucormycosis is caused by a fungus named mucor which is found on wet surfaces.
He had also said when the same Covid-19 patient is put on oxygen support, which has a humidifier containing water, the chances of him or her getting the fungal infection increase.
Lahane said the fungal disease is already known but the cases are increasing because of Covid-19 related complications.
PAKISTAN'S EID SHUTDOWN
The surge has spilled into next-door Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Its eastern neighbour Pakistan began a nine-day shutdown targeting travel and tourist hot spots to try to stop its outbreak from snowballing during the upcoming Eid celebrations at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The Eid holidays usually see a mass movement of people across the nation of 220 million, and the government has mobilised the military to help enforce the restrictions.
But mosques, which have been packed each night throughout Ramadan, will remain open despite the virus threat.
VACCINE PATENT ROW
The United States this week backed a push led by the WHO, India and South Africa to waive Covid-19 vaccine patent protections to boost supply to poorer nations.
The European Union yesterday pressed the US for a concrete proposal and a commitment to export much-needed jabs.
On Friday, The EU voiced scepticism over the US's sudden push to waive Covid vaccine patents to boost supply to poorer countries, while defending its own record as the world's biggest exporter of doses.
"An IP waiver will not solve the problems, will not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short- and medium-term," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference at an EU summit in Portugal, using an abbreviation for "intellectual property".
That position was echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who stressed that the bigger problem was US and British export restrictions on vaccines and their raw materials.
The European Union meanwhile said it had sealed a deal with BioNTech/Pfizer for up to 1.8 billion extra doses of its Covid-19 vaccine.
Rapid vaccine rollouts worldwide are considered critical in the fight against the virus, which has killed 3.26 million people so far, and some countries with high immunisation rates such as Britain are already easing restrictions and testing events with large gatherings again.