Dubai: India's COVID-19 related infections and deaths have fallen steadily over the past few days after a surge from mid-March.
But on Thursday, the death toll over 24 hours spiralled to a record 6,148 (from 2,219 a day earlier), with total fatalities at 359,676, according to data from the health ministry. It was the highest single day death toll since the pandemic began last year.
The official total of cases stood at 29.2 million on Thursday after rising by 94,052 in the previous 24 hours.
What led to the sudden rise in deaths?
The sharp spike in numbers came after the eastern state of Bihar revised its death toll following a directive by the Patna High Court which is closely monitoring the coronavirus situation in the state.
After an audit lasting 20 days, the Bihar health department on Thursday added 3,951 deaths to the casualty list, bringing the total toll to 9,429—an increase of 72.8 per cent on a single day. Most of the deaths took place during the second wave, and not on a particular day, according to the health department.
Why did Bihar revise its figures?
The verification of casualty figures was carried out after the Patna High Court last month pulled up the government for inconsistencies in the death toll from Buxur—a southwestern district from where more than 80 bodies were found floating in the river Ganga.
The court also asked the government to verify the facts from all sources before submitting to the court. It also asked the government to give accounts of deaths of villagers from COVID-19 during the second wave.
What did the audit show?
Till June 8, the official death toll in the state was 5,458, but the figures were revised in all the 38 districts of the state.
“The massive increase (in tally) was due to deaths reported from private hospitals, on way to hospitals, in home isolation and those dying of post COVID-19 complication after their discharge from the hospitals,” Bihar health secretary Pratyay Amit explained. “These deaths had remained unreported earlier.”
The revision has seen variations in the death toll by over 200 per cent in several districts. Patna reported the highest death toll of 2,293 (earlier 1,223). Similarly, Muzaffarpur reported 608 deaths (294 before revision), Begusarai 454 deaths (earlier 138), East Champaran 422 deaths (earlier 131) while Purnia reported 171 deaths (earlier only 70).
Will the revision help the victims?
The review followed the constitution of three-member committees in the 38 districts to verify the deaths. The revision will help the families of victims get monetary compensation of Rs400,000 as announced by the state government. “The audit was important for identifying the victims' families so that monetary compensation could be paid to them. So far, 3,737 families have been paid compensation,” the health secretary said.
Can the toll be revised again?
Patna district magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh said they verified the deaths at various levels such as private hospitals, crematoriums and Patna Municipal Corporation for those under home isolation. Authorities said the death toll could be revised again as 28 private hospitals have still not sent the casualty figures.
What is the status of India’s vaccination programme?
India has administered more than 239 million vaccinations since starting the campaign in the middle of January. That is only behind China and the United States.
India has given at least one dose to 14% of its 1.35 billion citizens. It has given the required two doses to less than 5% of its estimated 950 million adults.
It is currently using domestically made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Covishield, and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin. Millions of doses of Russia's Sputnik V have arrived in the country and its commercial sale is expected to start soon.
The government has placed its first advance order for a vaccine undergoing Phase 3 trials, as it tries to speed up the immunisation drive.
India has started looking for foreign vaccines made by companies such as Pfizer Inc/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. None of the US companies has formally applied to sell to India, though Pfizer is in active talks with the government.
Why was there a delay?
India's vaccine manufacturing was hit by raw material shortages after US President Joe Biden invoked the US Defence Production Act (DPA) earlier this year, giving US vaccine makers priority access.
After the country was hit by a second COVID-19 wave, the US agreed to provide "specific raw materials" for the manufacture of Covishield vaccines in India.
But the Serum Institute says it still faces shortages of supplies it needs from the US.
What was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent change in vaccine policy?
On Monday, Modi said the federal government would offer vaccines to all adults free of charge starting June 21. Rates for private hospitals - catering to those willing to pay for their shots - will be capped. Initially, India planned to vaccinate only 300 million of its health/front-line workers and the most vulnerable in the first six to eight months of the year. But the programme was expanded to include all adults from May 1.
Under the revised guidelines, the Government of India will procure 75 per cent of the vaccines being produced by manufacturers in the country. There is also a cap of Rs 150 on the amount private hospitals can charge over the cost of the purchase of the vaccine from the manufacturer.
Vaccination will be prioritised for healthcare workers, frontline workers, citizens more than 45 years of age, citizens whose second dose is due, and citizens 18 years and above.
Are restrictions in states being lifted?
Although there is no nationwide lockdown, many states are still under some form of lockdown to fight the coronavirus.
Delhi and Mumbai lifted some of their restrictions last week, but warned residents to remain vigilant against the coronavirus.
Some shops and malls reopened in Delhi and the city's metro services were operating at 50 per cent capacity.
Experts have warned that while the crisis has eased in Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities, the disease is still spreading in rural areas and in some southern and northeastern states.
The lockdown in Kerala has been extended till June 16 with restrictions in place.
- with inputs from Reuters