Mumbai closes Covid vaccine centers as India’s health services buckle

The country’s healthcare system has reached a “breaking point,” India’s Supreme Court said.

As the Covid-19 crisis spiraled out of control across India, the government announced that vaccination centers in Mumbai, India’s largest city, were to close for three days from Friday.

The closure of the 94 centers was due to “non-availability of vaccine stock,” the municipal government said in a tweet on Thursday evening.

“All efforts are being made to make more stock available and resume the drive.”

India’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, said the country’s healthcare system had reached a “breaking point” and that retired healthcare workers could be asked to go back to work, according to local newswire the Press Trust of India.

Image: Barriers are seen outside a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccination center after they were closed for three days.
Barriers are seen outside a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccination center after they were closed for three days.Punit Paranjpe / AFP – Getty Images

India recorded 386,452 cases of Covid-19 on Friday, setting yet another world record for daily cases. On Thursday, the country’s official death toll passed 200,000 but experts believe the actual number could be 5 to 10 times higher, Reuters reported.

India has administered just over 150 million vaccinations, according to the Health Ministry, a tiny proportion of its population of just under 1.4 billion people. As well as Mumbai, several other Indian states have also run out of vaccines, Reuters reported.

The crisis has overwhelmed the country’s hospitals and moratoriums, forcing cities to adopt mass cremations in public spaces.

The international response to India’s escalating crisis picked up pace on Thursday, with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla announcing that the country was due to receive over 10,000 oxygen cylinders, 4,000 oxygen concentrators and 500 oxygen generating plants from over 40 countries around the world, including the United States.

“As of now we have over 3 million active cases. This has obviously put considerable pressure on our healthcare system, on the capacities and resources that we have,” Shringla told reporters.

“International cooperation is a vital part of meeting and bridging the immediate requirements that we have.”

On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the U.S. had delivered its first shipment of technical support to India.

“Just as India came to our aid early in the pandemic, the U.S. is committed to working urgently to provide assistance to India in its time of need,” he said.

Image: A man performs the last rites at a crematorium in New Delhi.
A man performs the last rites at a crematorium in New Delhi.Anindito Mukherjee / Getty Images

Two planes packed with oxygen cylinders and oxygen-generating supplies were due to arrive in India from the U.S. on Friday. A third plane is due on May 3, according to Indian Foreign Ministry.

As the country struggles to deal with one the most severe public health crises in its history, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under fire for his handling of the crisis, with critics saying that he failed to lockdown the country in time.

On Thursday night, Modi continued to urge Indians to participate in the final stage of elections in West Bengal, despite concerns over the risk of large gatherings escalating into super-spreader events.

“In line with the latest Covid-19 protocols, I call upon people to cast their vote and enrich the festival of democracy,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

West Bengal is one of only a few states where Modi does not have a majority.

CORRECTION (April 30, 2021, 3:00 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the number of vaccines India has administered. It is just over 150 million, not 15 million.

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