The World Health Organisation says it is redeploying thousands of workers to India to fight the “really, truly astonishing” exponential growth in COVID-19 case numbers there.
Describing the situation in India as “beyond heartbreaking”, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing on Monday the organisation would send 2600 extra staff there to help fight the pandemic.
It is also providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies.
India has ordered its armed forces to help tackle surging new coronavirus infections that are overwhelming hospitals, as countries including Britain, Germany and the US pledged to send urgent medical aid.
‘Astonishing’ exponential growth in infections
There were more than 352,000 new infections in India on Monday.
“The exponential growth that we have seen in case numbers is really, truly astonishing,” Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said.
“We have seen similar trajectories of increases in transmission in a number of countries, it has not been at the same scale and it has not had the same level of impact of burden on the healthcare system that we have seen in India,” she said.
World’s biggest vaccine producer holds back exports
As it battles the outbreak, India has reportedly put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
India has so far exported more than 60.5 million doses, and supplies the COVAX program many countries are relying on to immunise their citizens.
The COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, run by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO, has provided more than 45 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to 120 countries, mostly the AstraZeneca shot made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker.
GAVI CEO Seth Berkley, asked how COVAX was compensating for India’s decision to delay vaccine exports, said: “We had expected 90 million doses for March and April for the 60 lowest income countries including India and those have not been made available. Given the crisis in India now they are being used domestically.
“We are waiting for when supplies will resume, we are looking at other options at the same time,” he said.
Australia deciding on response
In Australia, the federal government will consider sending desperately needed oxygen to India, but will also weigh up whether to impose even tougher travel rules on arrivals from India.
The national security committee will meet on Tuesday to consider a request for oxygen and is likely to send non-invasive ventilators to India, where the health system is in extreme crisis.
“India is literally gasping for oxygen,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
Last week, the federal government cut repatriation and direct flight arrivals from India by 30 per cent.
People who have been in India in the past two weeks need to test negative for the virus within three days of boarding a flight to Australia.
Mr Hunt confirmed a temporary ban on all flights from India could be an option if health authorities advised the move was necessary.
“If those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation,” he said.
Cricket star steps up
Australian cricket star Pat Cummins has donated $50,000 to go towards medical supplies in India.
Cummins is in India playing for IPL club Kolkata Knight Riders and says he has grown to love the country dearly over the years.
“To know so many are suffering so much at this time saddens me greatly,” Australia’s Test vice-captain said on social media.
His donation to the PM CARES Fund will pay for oxygen supplies for India’s overwhelmed hospitals.
Cummins, who is staying put in India for now, called on other IPL players to contribute.
“And anyone else around the world who has been touched by India’s passion and generosity,” the fast bowler said.
His Twitter post has been liked more than 350,000 times, shared over 100,000 times and prompted thousands of replies.
Cummins was purchased by Kolkata for a record $3.1 million in an IPL auction in December 2019.
The IPL is continuing in a COVID-safe bubble and Cummins noted the discussion about whether it was appropriate to continue playing as the crisis deepened.
He said he’d been told the Indian Government believed the IPL provided a few hours of respite for the country at a difficult time.
But fellow Australian players Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson are leaving the IPL as COVID-19 infections surge in India.
Mr Tye was flown out of India on Sunday night after requesting a release from the Rajasthan Royals on personal grounds amid growing unease about the path back to Australia.
Royal Challengers Bangalore on Monday said leg-spinner Zampa and paceman Richardson had also been given permission to return home for personal reasons.
WA lockdown ends but tensions remain
In Australia, state and federal tensions over hotel quarantine remain unresolved as West Australians emerge from their snap coronavirus lockdown.
Perth and the Peel region completed the three-day lockdown overnight after a second straight day of no new community cases.
However, interim restrictions remain in place until 12.01am on Saturday, including the mandatory wearing of face masks and limits on gatherings.
Two locally acquired infections were found from more than 29,000 tests after the virus leaked out of the Mercure quarantine hotel.
The outbreak has renewed hotel quarantine concerns and prompted calls for the federal government to invest in purpose-built facilities.
WA’s cap on international arrivals will be halved to 512 a week for the next month and Mr McGowan has not ruled out extending the reduction.
Brisbane health workers plan to board COVID tanker
In Queensland, health workers are readying to assess COVID-positive crew on board a British-flagged tanker ship after it was given permission to anchor off Brisbane.
The Inge Kosan is expected to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Health workers will board the ship to assess crew members once it is safe to do so,” a Queensland Health spokesperson told AAP on Monday.
Workers boarded the Inge Kosan at Sydney’s Port Botany on March 31 and April 1 wearing protective gear and did not contract the virus.
Blood samples were sent to Sydney and 11 of the 12 crew all tested positive to coronavirus.
A spokesman for the shipping company BW Epic Kosan said last week that members of the crew were “asymptomatic” and the company was continuing to monitor their status.