Coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news


 A health worker collects a swab sample for a COVID-19 test in New Delhi, on Jan. 2. (Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Sunday urged states to tap into a $3.1 billion Covid-19 emergency fund set aside by the central government last July — of which just 17% has been spent.

The threat of a new wave fueled by the Delta and Omicron variants was underlined Monday as India reported 33,750 new Covid-19 cases — more than four times the 7,031 daily cases reported just one week ago, according to the Health Ministry.

Of the new cases Monday, 1,700 were of the Omicron strain, a month since India reported its first case of the variant on December 2.

“The Omicron variant being highly transmissible, a high surge in cases can overwhelm the medical system,” Mandaviya said Sunday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last month that oxygen supplies have increased and there are more ICU beds available in the country. However, Mandivya said Sunday more must be spent on tele-medicine, ICU beds, human resources, oxygen and ambulances.

Cases spike: The country’s two biggest cities, New Delhi and Mumbai, have seen an exponential rise in cases.

On Sunday, the national capital territory of Delhi reported 3,194 new infections, a more than 10-fold rise since the 290 cases it reported the same day last week. Mumbai reported 8,063 new cases Sunday evening, nearly nine times the 922 infections it reported last Sunday. 

According to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, only 82 oxygen beds were occupied as of Sunday, with 37,000 available. In Mumbai, local administration chief Iqbal Chahal said 90% of hospital beds in the city were vacant. 

Large gatherings: As many as 14 states and union territories have Covid restrictions in place, however large political gatherings with lax mask-wearing continue. 

On Sunday, Kejriwal held a public meeting in Uttar Pradesh state with thousands in attendance, where he critiqued the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s Covid management during India’s devastating second wave last year. The BJP, including Prime Minister Modi, have also held several such large public gatherings with lax social distancing.

Total cases: India has recorded a total of 34,922,882 Covid cases and 481,893 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. At least 90% of the country’s adult population has received one dose of a vaccine while 65% have taken both doses. 

On Monday India began vaccinations for children aged 15-18.

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