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India posts Covid daily record as global cases hit 150m

India on Friday posted another global record for daily coronavirus infections, pushing worldwide cases past 150 million as a pandemic that has killed almost 3.2 million worldwide continues to wreak devastation.

The number of new daily cases has more than doubled since
mid-February, an AFP tally showed, in an explosion in infections blamed in part
on a new Covid-19 variant but also on failure to follow virus restrictions.

The countries with the highest total number of cases are the
United States, India and Brazil.

The continent seeing the bulk of new daily cases is Asia,
driven largely by a devastating wave in India which has overwhelmed hospitals
and crematoriums.

India recorded another 385,000 cases in the past 24 hours —
a new global record — and almost 3,500 deaths, according to official data that
many experts suspect falls short of the true toll.

More than 40 countries have committed to sending medical aid
to India, with a US Super Galaxy military transporter carrying more than 400
oxygen cylinders, other hospital equipment and nearly one million rapid
coronavirus tests arriving in New Delhi on Friday.

The Indian diaspora has also sprung into action, with a
collection of overseas volunteers scrambling to locate desperately-needed
supplies for Covid-19 stricken relatives, friends and strangers back home.

Compounding India’s woes as cases soared has been its
failure to get a much-needed vaccine programme off the ground.

Until now, only “frontline” workers like medical
staff, people over 45 and those with underlying illnesses have been given the
AstraZeneca shot or Bharat Biotech’s homegrown Covaxin.

As of Saturday jabs will be open to all adults, meaning
around 600 million more people will be eligible.

But several states have warned they do not have sufficient
stocks, and the expanded rollout is threatened by administrative bickering,
confusion over prices and technical glitches on the government’s digital
vaccine platform.

Brazil woes

Also struggling to inoculate a vast country facing a surge
in cases is Brazil, which has one of the highest mortality rates in the
pandemic, at 189 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

The country recorded 3,001 Covid deaths in the past 24 hours,
bringing its overall toll to 401,186.

Experts blame the latest surge partly on the “Brazil
variant” of the virus, a mutation that emerged in or around the Amazon
rainforest city of Manaus in December.

But many have also pointed the finger at the administration
of President Jair Bolsonaro, which now faces investigation from the country’s
Senate into whether there was criminal neglect in its handling of the pandemic.

Around 28 million people have received a first Covid-19
vaccine dose, just over 10 percent of the population.

The country’s health regulators this week said they would
reject the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, citing evidence it carried a live
version of adenovirus, a common cold-causing virus.

‘Perfect storm’

Since the discovery of the virus, more than 50.2 million
cases have been recorded in Europe — more than a third of worldwide

But the continent is beginning to open up again as
vaccination campaigns pick up.

Heritage sites are due to reopen across Scotland for the first
time this year on Friday and after the longest closure since World War II, as
coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased.

In France, cafes, cultural venues and business will reopen
in several phases from May, President Emmanuel Macron said.

On Friday he announced that all adults in France would be
eligible to get vaccines from June 15, blowing open the immunisation campaign
he hopes will let the badly-hit country get back to normal.    

And in neighbouring Belgium, the country’s renowned beer
brewers hit hard by months of lockdown are rushing to ensure adequate supplies
are available when establishments reopen next week.

Among those celebrating will be British pharmaceuticals
giant AstraZeneca, which on Friday reported $275 million (227 million euros) in
sales from its Covid vaccine in the first three months of the year.

The company’s Covid-19 jab was developed with the University
of Oxford and has been key in Britain’s rapid vaccination drive. The company is
selling it at cost price.

Meanwhile Pfizer/BioNTech, which co-developed a Covid jab,
said they have asked European regulators to authorise their vaccine for 12- to
15-year-olds — a crucial step toward herd immunity.

While children and teenagers are less likely to develop
severe Covid, they make up a large part of the population and inoculating them
is considered key to ending the pandemic.

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