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India nears 20 million COVID cases as Europe eyes reopening

India's total COVID-19 caseload neared 20 million Monday, 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.

India nears 20 million COVID cases as Europe eyes reopening
Skilled technicians monitor medical oxygen refilling lines at a supply plant in Ahmedabad on May 3, 2021, as the demand for medical oxygen increased amid Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. AFP
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 under control.

Doctors in the resort state of Goa on India’s western coast told of how hospitals were 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.

France eases COVID controls

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 Monday. 

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

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

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

Among those preparing for a post-pandemic future is France, which on Monday relaxed controls on movement and allowed the partial return of students to classrooms as part of a four-stage process of opening up. 

Greece reopened outdoor dining after six months of closures as it eyes the beginning of the tourism season. 

"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 the day after the country celebrated Orthodox Easter.

And in a jubilant call to action, Britain's Prince Harry joined pop royalty including Jennifer Lopez at a star-studded concert in Los Angeles Sunday to urge faster and more even global vaccinations.

"Vax Live: The Concert To Reunite The World" featured video messages from the pope and US President Joe Biden and in-person appearances from Hollywood stars such as Ben Affleck and Sean Penn.

Oktoberfest cancelled

In northern England, a crowd of 5,000 people danced without face coverings at a music festival in the nation's first post-lockdown gig.

However, in a sign that the pandemic isn't over in Europe, Germany on Monday cancelled its iconic Oktoberfest beer festival for a second year running due to the pandemic.

The Covax global vaccine programme, which ensures access to jabs in poorer countries, struck a deal to buy 500 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 jab, with the doses due to come on stream from October.

Also on the vaccine front, Denmark said Monday 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.

"The Danish Health Authority has concluded that the benefits of using the Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson do not outweigh the risk of causing the possible adverse effect... in those who receive the vaccine," the authority said in a statement.

US biotech firm Novavax 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.

The pandemic has killed more than 3.2 million people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data. 

The US is the worst-affected country with over 577,000 deaths, followed by Brazil with over 400,000 fatalities and India with almost 220000.

Topics: COVID-19 , rapid vaccination program , Narendra Modi , European Commission
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