Hospitals in India have launched desperate requests for oxygen as the Covid crisis intensified, while Japan issued a state of emergency in some areas just three months before the opening of the Olympics.
With governments rushing to accelerate vaccination drives, good news emerged Friday when US regulators approved a halt to the restart of Johnson & Johnson vaccines due to concerns about blood clotting; and the EU said it would have enough hits by the end of July to inoculate 70% of adults.
The Brussels announcement came as the European drug regulator said the benefits of the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine increased with age, reiterating that it should be used despite links to rare blood clots.
In India, health facilities raised the alarm about supplying oxygen for ventilated patients.
“SOS: Less than an hour of oxygen supply at Max Smart Hospital and Max Hospital Saket,” one of Delhi’s largest private hospital chains said online.
“More than 700 admitted patients need immediate assistance.”
The country reported more than 330,000 new infections, a world record, and 2,000 deaths in a single day on Friday.
Compounding the misery, 13 Covid patients died in Mumbai when a fire broke out at their hospital, the latest in a series of fires at Indian healthcare facilities.
Many parts of the country have tightened restrictions, with the capital closed and all non-essential services banned in Maharashtra. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, goes into lockdown this weekend.
Other countries have closed their doors to India for fear that a new variant will spread rapidly in the country. The United Arab Emirates became the latest nation to impose restrictions on Thursday, while Canada halted flights from India and Pakistan.
New Zealand has halted its trip to Western Australia after a Covid-19 case was confirmed in Perth.
Australia and New Zealand, two largely coronavirus-free neighbors, opened their non-quarantine travel bubble on Sunday, nearly 400 days after closing their borders. The move has been hailed as a major milestone in the restart of a global travel industry that has been crippled by the pandemic.
Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, just three months before the country is supposed to host the Olympics.
“Today we decided to declare a state of emergency in the prefectures of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo,” announced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, citing the increase in infections involving new variants of the virus.
The country’s minister for virus response Yasutoshi Nishimura earlier warned of a “strong sense of crisis” and said the current restrictions were not enough.
The measure will run from April 25 to May 11, coinciding with the annual Golden Week holiday, Japan’s busiest travel period.
The authorities want bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol or close, and close major commercial facilities such as shopping centers.
Spectators will be excluded from sporting events, which may continue behind closed doors, and remote work will be encouraged.
Governments were grappling with further increases elsewhere.
Russia announced on Friday that it would impose a 10-day non-working period in early May to halt the spread of the virus, a departure from the government’s hands-off approach in recent months.
Russia has been hit hard by Covid-19, and Rosstat’s state statistics agency recorded more than 224,000 virus-related deaths, more than double the 107,501 reported by health officials as of Friday.
If correct, Rosstat’s death toll would mean that Russia has the third highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, after the United States and Brazil.
US health regulators agreed to the recommendation to resume vaccines with the Johnson & Johnson jab because its potential clotting risks were outweighed by its protection against the virus.
According to data released Friday, of 3.9 million women in the United States who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 15 developed severe blood clots and three died. Most of the patients were under 50 years of age. No cases were reported among men.
Meanwhile, the EU said it would have enough vaccines for most of its adult population by the summer.
“I am sure that we will have enough doses to vaccinate 70% of all adults in the EU as early as July,” said the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The EU chief had previously set a target for the end of September for the target, but announced the new date during a visit to a Belgian vaccine plant that is increasing production of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.
Europe has been plagued with vaccine problems, first without securing much-needed supplies and then over safety concerns, primarily around the AstraZeneca jab after links to blood clots emerged.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism