India reported 275 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the most this year, as a second surge in cases fills up hospital beds in big states such as Maharashtra.
Infections rose by 47,262 in the past 24 hours, the highest since early November 2020, to a total of 11.7 million, data from the Health Ministry showed. India has recorded the most number of cases in the world after the United States and Brazil.
Total deaths have shot up to 160,441 in India.
Meanwhile, the Union government said on Tuesday that it would expand its vaccination campaign from April 1 to include everyone above 45, and denied there was any shortage as a second surge in infections drives up demand.
The assurance on supplies comes as the government’s highly publicised vaccine diplomacy is being questioned at home. India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has exported more than 60 million doses but given only about 50 million to its own people.
Currently, only the elderly and those over 45 with other health conditions are eligible. Health and frontline workers were first in line when India began its drive in mid-January.
“Our appeal is that all above 45 should take the vaccine as early as possible,” Information Minister Prakash Javadekar said, adding that inoculations in the past 24 hours had reached a record.
He brushed aside a question on when the government would include all adults, as demanded by states such as Punjab and the capital Delhi.
Javadekar and the Health Ministry sought to allay fears over supplies expressed by some states, such as Odisha.
“There is no shortage of vaccines in the country,” the ministry said in a statement.
The sudden increase in demand, nevertheless, is piling pressure on vaccine makers the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to step up output. SII has already delayed shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Brazil, Britain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Odisha state has warned the Health Ministry that it expects vaccine stocks to be exhausted by March 30, with another batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine scheduled to arrive only on April 2.
“We will have no vaccines for four days,” state health official P.K. Mohapatra said in a letter seen by Reuters.