India hits world’s highest Covid surge, placed on France's travel red list

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France will impose a 10-day quarantine for travelers arriving from India in the coming days to prevent the spread of the deadly double mutant Covid-19 variant which is thought to be fueling the new wave of cases. Meanwhile, hospitals across India are dealing with a shortage of oxygen for intensive care patients.

India reported a record 314,835 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday - a global record - while deaths rose by 2,104, the country’s worst daily toll.

The country has been reporting daily cases in excess of 200,000 for the last week taking its overall caseload to nearly 16 million, second only to the United States.

France is to impose a 10-day quarantine for travellers arriving from India in the coming days to prevent the spread of a worrying Covid-19 variant, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday.

The move comes a few days after Paris announced a ban on all flights from Brazil to stave off the P1 coronavirus variant, and required quarantines for passengers on flights from Argentina, Chile and South Africa.

Air France usually has 10 weekly flights connecting Paris to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengalaru.

“It is unfortunate but we have been told this and more countries are likely to do the same if this second wave persists,” a senior aviation ministry official told RFI.

“Normal international travel is something we can’t foresee in the near future.”

Apart from France, Britain has also added India to its "red list" of strict travel restrictions. Air India on Wednesday said it has cancelled a majority of its flights between India and the United Kingdom from April 24 to 30.

Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned India flights outright, and the United States has advised against travelling to the country, even for those fully vaccinated.

Double mutation

A new variant known as B.1.617, sometimes called the "double mutant", has already begun to overwhelm the country’s health infrastructure as hospitals struggle with a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies even as temporary hospitals and makeshift shelters are being set up.

“The double mutant virus has spread to many states and other countries as well. If we could have acted with more alacrity a few months back, maybe the impact would have been lessened,” health expert Gautam Menon told RFI.

What is more worrying health experts is that this variant is showing immune escape and able to evade antibodies created by a prior infection or by vaccination.

Underscoring that it is the government’s responsibility to provide oxygen to medical facilities, the Delhi High Court came down strongly on the government maintaining that “human lives are not that important for the state”.

“Beg, borrow or steal. It is a national emergency,” said a two member bench comprising Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli.

“We are shocked and dismayed that the government does not seem to be seeing the reality… What is happening? Why is the government not waking up to the reality,” said the court.

Gasping for breath

With reports of states hoarding on oxygen or stalling its supply to other states coming from across the country, the government issued orders under the Disaster Management Act that no state can hold up supplies of oxygen to another state.

“No restriction shall be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the states and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-state movement of oxygen carrying vehicles,” said home secretary Ajay Bhalla.

According to Fitch Solutions, a data research agency, with 8.5 hospital beds per 10,000 population and 8 physicians per 10,000, India’s healthcare sector is not equipped for such a crisis.

“The significant inefficiency, dysfunctioning and acute shortage of the healthcare delivery systems in the public sector do not match up with the growing needs of the population," the agency said.

It also pointed out that states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu along with Punjab and Karnataka bearing the maximum load of the pandemic are already falling short of health infrastructure and equipment ranging from oxygen to ventilators.