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India nears 20M Covid cases as Europe eyes reopening

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India has been facing a dire shortage of oxygen equipment. AFP

India nears 20M Covid cases as Europe eyes reopening

India's total coronavirus caseload neared 20 million on May 3, in stark contrast to gradual reopenings in Europe and other wealthier parts of the world where rapid vaccination programmes have helped keep new cases down.

Highlighting the inequalities, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 3 pleaded with the Group of Seven (G7) informal bloc of wealthy nations to dig deep and fund the global Covid-19 recovery, warning the crisis cannot be resolved worldwide if they do not step up.

In India cases have soared by around eight million since the end of March, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi under growing pressure to take decisive action to reverse the surge.

Meanwhile Europe is looking at easing travel restrictions on foreign tourists as early as next month, if they are fully vaccinated or come from a country with Covid-19 under control.

Doctors in the resort state of Goa on India's western coast described hospitals that are overwhelmed by the spike in cases.

"There are critical patients who have to be managed on trolleys and floors and kept on ventilators in critical Covid wards," the Goa Association of Resident Doctors said in a letter.

Clinics in the capital New Delhi have also sent urgent appeals for help.

"Oxygen is a basic requirement of a hospital and a consistent supply has not been assured. We are constantly firefighting," the head of the Madhukar Rainbow Children's Hospital Dr Dinesh told the Indian Express daily.

Stung by defeat in a key state-level election and a Supreme Court ruling ordering him to rectify the oxygen situation in Delhi by midnight (1830 GMT), embattled Prime Minister Modi held talks with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on May 3.

The Indian leader thanked the bloc for "mobilising quick support for India's fight against the second wave" as international aid has poured into the country.

Germany and France over the weekend sent medical equipment including oxygen-generating plants.

The contrasting situation in Europe was highlighted on May 3 when the EU Commission proposed that travellers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved jabs should be able once again to enter the bloc, if they come from countries keeping Covid-19 at bay.

US citizens are among those eyeing possible European vacations this summer, with more than 100 million people in the US now fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Florida on May 3 became the latest state to lift its Covid-19 restrictions, citing the effectiveness and availability of vaccines.

Among the European governments hoping for a post-pandemic tourism boom is Greece, which has now reopened outdoor dining after six months of closures.

"Today I feel like I'm alive again, like I've been revived," joked Andreas Riminiotis, a retiree savouring the ambience at the Da Capo cafe in Athens.

France is also looking to its post-pandemic future, relaxing controls on movement and allowing the partial return of students to classrooms on May 3 as part of a four-stage process of opening up.

But in a sign that the pandemic isn't over in Europe, Germany cancelled its world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival for a second year running due to the pandemic.

The WHO has warned that rich countries in Europe and beyond must step up their funding for vaccines, tests and treatments in poorer nations if the global crisis – which has claimed 3.2 million lives – is to be brought to an end.

"We will only solve the vaccine crisis with the leadership of these countries," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, urging wealthy G7 nations to take decisive action at their summit in June.

In a boost to efforts to help poorer countries, the COVAX global vaccine programme struck a deal to buy 500 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 jab.

US biotech firm Novavax meanwhile said it had started clinical trials of its proposed Covid-19 vaccine on children, in a programme that will involve up to 3,000 adolescents aged 12-17.

Far fewer children have been sick with coronavirus compared to adults, and most have mild to no symptoms, but they can be infected and spread the virus.

Also on the vaccine front, Denmark said it would not include the Covid-19 vaccine from US drugmaker Johnson & Johnson in its national vaccination campaign, citing worries over serious side effects involving blood clots.

While the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has concluded that there is a possible link between the vaccine and rare but severe cases of clotting, both the EMA and the WHO have recommended the vaccine be used on the basis that the benefits outweigh the risks.


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