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national news lafm header 2019

India's COVID-19 cases cross 20 million

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has called for a nationwide lockdown as the country's tally of coronavirus infections surged past 20 million, becoming the second nation after the United States to pass the grim milestone.

India's deadly second wave of infections, the world's biggest surge in coronavirus infections, has seen it take just over four months to add 10 million cases, versus more than 10 months for its first 10 million.

Currently, the country has 3.45 million active cases.

On Tuesday, India reported 357,229 new cases over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose 3449 for a toll of 222,408, health ministry data showed.

Medical experts say actual numbers in India could be five to 10 times higher than those reported.

"The only way to stop the spread of Corona now is a full lockdown... GOI's inaction is killing many innocent people," Congress party MP Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to the Government of India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown due to the economic fall-out, yet several states have imposed various social restrictions.

The surge in cases of the highly infectious Indian variant of COVID-19 has swamped the health system, drained supplies of medical oxygen vital for survival for those infected, and seen patients dying in ambulances and carparks outside hospitals.

Rows of funeral pyres in parks and carparks cremate the overflow of corpses.

Modi has been criticised for not moving sooner to limit the latest wave of infections and for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies during March and April.

"What the recent weeks reveal is that both Centre and states have been woefully unprepared for the second wave," an editorial in the Times of India said on Tuesday.

Offering a glimmer of hope, coronavirus cases in some regions were plateauing, a federal health ministry official said on Monday. Government modelling shows cases could peak by Wednesday this week, a few days earlier than a previous estimate, since the virus has spread faster than expected.

The surge in COVID-19 in India has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations, due to problems with supplies and delivery.

At least three Indian states, including the richest state of Maharashtra which includes Mumbai, continued to report vaccine scarcity, shutting down some of its vaccination centres.

The state on Monday administered 79,491 doses, compared to a record 534,372 a week ago.

In Modi's home state of Gujarat, the three largest cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara limited vaccines to the 18-44 age group, officials said.

Public forecasts by India's two current vaccine producers show total monthly output of 70-80 million doses would increase only in two months or more.

Just 9.5 per cent of the population of 1.35 billion has received at least a single dose.

India has invited Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna Inc to sell their vaccines to the country but none have applied to do so yet.

Pfizer has told the Indian government there was no concern over the safety of its COVID-19 vaccine, as the country insists on small local trials for foreign shots despite a record surge in infections and shortage of doses.

© AP 2021