The Latest: India must submit plan for oxygen at hospitals
NEW DELHI — India’s government, facing calls for a strict coronavirus lockdown to slow the devastating surge in infections, has been ordered by the top court to submit a plan on meeting New Delhi hospitals’ oxygen requirements within a day.
India is experiencing a vast coronavirus outbreak, with 382,315 new confirmed cases and 3,780 reported deaths in the last 24 hours, in what is widely believed to be an undercount.
The Supreme Court decided against immediately punishing officials for failing to end a two-week erratic supply of oxygen to overstretched hospitals. The presiding judge said, “Ultimately putting officers in jail or hauling officers for contempt will not bring oxygen. Please tell us steps to solve this.”
The court stayed the contempt notice issued to the government by a lower New Delhi High Court for defying its order on supplying adequate oxygen to more than 40 New Delhi hospitals.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— India’s virus surge is damaging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s carefully tailored image of competence
— U.S. birth rate fell 4% last year, the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years, with pandemic likely a factor
— Parents, educators hopeful for pending Pfizer authorization for 12-15 age group, key to smooth school reopenings
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — India’s foreign minister has pulled out of in-person meetings at a Group of Seven gathering in London because of possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted he was “made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases.” He added out of “abundant caution” he would attend Wednesday’s meetings virtually.
Britain’s Foreign Office didn’t immediately confirm whether any delegates had tested positive. Diplomats from the G-7 group of wealthy nations are meeting in London for their first face-to-face gathering in two years. India is not a G-7 member but was invited along with South Korea, Australia and South Africa to attend the group’s meeting as a guest on Wednesday night.
BELGRADE, Serbia — The Serbian government will offer money to people who have vaccinated as it seeks ways to boost the process.
Serbia has led the way in vaccination in the Balkan region, but interest has recently slumped. The government on Wednesday said it will pay 3,000 dinars (25 euros; $30) of state aid to everyone who received at least one vaccine dose by the end of May.
Previously, authorities have organized vaccination without an appointment and announced vaccination points in some shopping malls in Belgrade.
So far, around 2 million people have received at least one dose of Sinopharm, Pfizer , Sputnik V or AstraZeneca vaccines in the country of some 7 million people.
The government says “vaccination is the only way back to the life we remember before 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic.”
BERLIN — A German military cargo aircraft with a mobile oxygen production unit for India has departed from an airport in northern Germany to help Indian hospitals that are overwhelmed with coronavirus pandemic patients.
The plane will have a layover in Abu Dhabi and is expected to arrive in India on Thursday.
“We’re proud to contribute significantly with our airlift in the global fight against the coronavirus,” German air force Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz told German news agency dpa on Wednesday. ”Air transports are a routine for us but we all know that the fight against this pandemic is about human lives and that every single life counts.”
A team of 13 Germans arrived a few days ago in India already and will stay in the country for two weeks to train local members of the Red Cross in India on how to use the oxygen unit.
A second cargo plane is expected to leave Wunstorf air base on Thursday.
LONDON — The U.K. is planning to bolster coronavirus testing capabilities at the Porton Down research facility in southern England in order to asses the effectiveness of vaccines against variants of the virus.
The British government said another 29.3 million pounds ($41 million) will be made available for the “new state-of-the-art labs,” which will increase the site’s current capacity from 700 to 3,000 blood samples tested a week.
The investment aims to give Porton Down’s scientists the ability to accelerate the pace and scale of specialized testing to support the rapid development of vaccines designed to combat mutations of the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new funding “will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants.”
Perhaps the greatest concern about the future path of the pandemic relates to the effectiveness of the vaccines against new mutations of the virus.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Authorities extended a lockdown in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and surrounding districts by another week on Wednesday as the Himalayan nation recorded its highest daily tolls of COVID-19 infection and death.
The Ministry of Health said Tuesday 7,660 people tested positive for the coronavirus while 55 people had died.
The lockdown notice also said neighborhood grocery stores would be allowed to open only two hours in the morning and there would be further restrictions imposed on movement of vehicles to curb the spiking number of cases.
Nepal halted all domestic flights this week and international flights would be stopped from Thursday.
Nepal has recorded 351,005 cases while 3,417 people have died.
CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government on Wednesday faced a court challenge to its temporary Indian travel ban brought by a 73-year-old citizen stranded in the city of Bengaluru.
The government is resisting growing pressure to lift the travel ban imposed last week until May 15 to reduce COVID-19 infection rates in Australian quarantine facilities.
Lawyers for Gary Newman, one of 9,000 Australians prevented from returning home from India, made an urgent application to the Federal Court in Sydney on Wednesday for a judge to review the travel ban imposed under the Biosecurity Act by Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Justice Stephen Burley said an expedited hearing date would be announced within 48 hours.
LANSING, Michigan — Michigan is lifting a pandemic mandate requiring masks to be worn outdoors, except for gatherings of at least 100 people and organized contact sports.
Under an order that takes effect Thursday, the state also is easing caps on the size of outdoor events and says vaccinated people are not required to be masked at indoor residential gatherings.
The state’s rules are looser than guidance issued last week by the CDC, which said vaccinated people should wear masks at gatherings that include unvaccinated people. Michigan is only urging people to still follow the CDC guidance and be masked whenever they are around unvaccinated people not from their household.
DETROIT — Teams of canvassers from Detroit’s health department have been fanning out across city neighborhoods to educate residents on where to get free COVID-19 vaccines.
Detroit’s door-to-door campaign is the latest in its efforts to connect residents to vaccination sites across a city with predominantly Black residents.
Various campaigns also are happening in Black and other communities of color across the U.S. to persuade people that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
Detroit has been urging people to get vaccinated against the virus, which has already killed more than 2,000 of its residents. Only about 31% of Detroit adults have received at least one dose.
WASHINGTON — The White House says President Joe Biden is setting a new vaccination goal to deliver at least one dose to 70% of adult Americans by July 4.
This comes as the administration pushes to make it easier for people to get shots and to bring the country closer to normalcy. The new goal includes fully vaccinating 160 million adults by Independence Day.
That comes as demand for vaccines has dropped off markedly nationwide, with some states leaving more than half their vaccine doses unordered. Biden will call for states to make vaccines available on a walk-in basis and will direct many pharmacies to do the same.
So far, more than 56% of American adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 105 million are fully vaccinated.
The U.S. is currently administering first doses at a rate of about 965,000 per day — half the rate of three weeks ago, but nearly twice as fast as needed to meet Biden’s target.