News World India turns to ex-army medics for help as pressure mounts on Modi to impose nationwide lockdown

India turns to ex-army medics for help as pressure mounts on Modi to impose nationwide lockdown

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India has called upon hundreds of former army medics to help the country fight the escalating COVID-19 crisis.

It comes amid growing calls for a complete nationwide lockdown, which the prime minister has resisted due to the potential economic impact.

Some 400 medical officers are expected to serve on contract for a maximum of 11 months, the health ministry said in a press release.

Other defence doctors had also been contacted for online consultations.

But without a countrywide lockdown, the coronavirus could decimate India, opposition leader Rahul Gandhi warned.

COVID-19 cases and deaths have been hitting records every two or three days.

Deaths rose by more than 4000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday.

Why the PM is opposed to a lockdown

Individual states can impose restrictions but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has requested they only consider doing so as “a last option”.

Many Indian states have still imposed strict lockdowns over the past month like the capital, Delhi, and the financial hub, Mumbai.

Others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.

During India’s first wave last year, Mr Modi was heavily criticised for locking down the country with less than four hours’ notice.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers who were left without a job had to walk hundreds of kilometres back to their home villages.

This led to a humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, India’s economic output fell by a record 24 per cent between April and June 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, the BBC reported.

The government has said if it were to another national lockdown, this would have serious economic consequences.

Pressure mounts

The real infection rate in India could be up to ten times higher, many health experts say, due to a lack of widespread testing or reporting. Photo: Getty

The Indian Medical Association called for a “complete, well-planned, pre-announced” lockdown instead of sporadic night curfews and restrictions imposed by states for a few days at a time.

“IMA is astonished to see the extreme lethargy and inappropriate actions from the ministry of health in combating the agonising crisis born out of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement on Saturday.

Dr Anthony Fauci, a top White House coronavirus adviser, said on Sunday he has advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.

“You’ve got to shut down. I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down,” Dr Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” television program.

Mr Modi is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies over the past two months even as COVID-19 cases were surging.

Virus engulfs India

The health ministry reported 4092 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362.

New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.

India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4187.

People sit in an observation room after getting a dose of the Covaxin vaccine in Bangalore. Photo: Getty

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see one million COVID-19 deaths by August.

With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and with morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher than reported.

The world’s largest vaccine-producing nation has fully vaccinated just over 34.3 million, or only 2.5 per cent, of its 1.35 billion population as of Sunday, according to data from the government’s Co-WIN portal.

Since India opened vaccinations to all adults this month, the pace of administering the shots has dropped with states saying they only have limited stock to give out.

Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment.

-with AAP