Covid 19 coronavirus: New daily cases skyrocket in India

India’s Covid-19 crisis has become so severe that authorities have been forced to ban the export of an antiviral drug called remdesivir.

There were 152,000 new cases recorded on Sunday, adding to a total infection case load of 13.3 million.

The new daily record comes amid shortages of vaccines, drugs and hospital beds.

There have been almost 1 million cases in the past week, but most of India is business as usual – mass religious festivals, political rallies and spectators at cricket matches have seen crowds surge.

Packed trains leaving major cities remain a concern, too – a symptom of a government accused of being too complacent with restrictions in favour of keeping the economy open.

Individual states have been forced to take it upon themselves to implement lockdowns as cases soar all over the country.

In the coronavirus epicentre of Maharashtra, a statewide weekend lockdown comes a year after the first lockdown – one that caused widespread misery and one of the sharpest downturns of any major economy.

In Maharashtra and its capital Mumbai, restaurants are shut and public gatherings of more than five people are banned.

Every weekend until the end of April, the state’s 125 million people are confined to their homes unless shopping for food, medicine or travelling.

“This lockdown could have been totally avoided if people would take the virus seriously,” said media professional Neha Tyagi, 27.

In many regions including in New Delhi and Bangalore, a night curfew is in force.

Election rallies in West Bengal are going ahead, however, as is the colossal Kumbh Mela religious festival in Uttarakhand with millions expected next week by the holy Ganges river.

Virus tests are in theory compulsory there, but chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat has said pilgrims will not be “unnecessarily harassed in the name of Covid-19 restrictions”.

Raipur district, home to the capital of Chhattisgarh state, is under a 10-day lockdown with no one allowed to enter the area unless performing essential services.

India’s drive to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people also looks to be hitting problems, with just 94 million shots administered so far and stocks running low, according to local authorities.

In megacity Mumbai, all 72 private vaccination centres were shut until Tuesday while opening hours were reduced at government and municipal centres, authorities said.

“If we don’t receive more stock by Sunday, even government centres will be shut from Monday,” city health official Mangala Gomare told local media.

The health ministry said the surge in cases has led to a “sudden spike in demand” for remdesivir. “There is a potential of further increase in this demand in the coming days,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the export ban would be in place “till the situation improves”.

Remdesivir, made by US pharma giant Gilead, was one of the first drugs to show relative promise in shortening the recovery time for some Covid-19 patients.

But a World Health Organisation-backed study has said the drug had “little or no effect” on Covid-19 mortality.

Gilead last year signed licensing agreements with generic pharmaceutical producers based in India, Pakistan and Egypt, allowing them to manufacture remdesivir for distribution in 127 mostly low and lower-middle income nations.

Seven firms in India – the world’s biggest producer of generic drugs – are licensed to manufacture remdesivir.

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