The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) called the recent surge in coronavirus in India "beyond heartbreaking" and said that the United Nations (UN) agency has dispatched critical supplies to the subcontinent, including thousands of portable oxygen machines that help patients breathe.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic continues to intensify globally and that coronavirus infections have now risen for the ninth straight week, while deaths have increased for the sixth week in a row. There were as many cases globally last week as in the first five months of the pandemic, he said.
To address the crisis in India, Tedros said WHO has redeployed more than 2,000 staff to support the country's response on the ground and is helping authorities with efforts including vaccination. Among the supplies WHO has sent India are pre-made mobile field hospitals and lab supplies, he said.
Meanwhile, WHO also warned against jumping to conclusions about a new coronavirus variant discovered in India, saying it had not yet classified it as worrying. A WHO spokeswoman said that it was not clear at this point to what extent the variant was responsible for the rapid increase in cases in India in recent months, DPA news agency reported.
There are many factors that could have contributed to this, she said. For example, festivals and other events with many participants may have accelerated infections. The British coronavirus variant may also be affecting India's epidemiological situation.
In India, more than 3.5 lakh infections were reported within 24 hours on Monday, more than any country has reported in that timespan. With its 1.3 billion inhabitants, India has recorded a total of more than 17 million infections.
The British, South African and Brazilian variants of COVID-19 have all been classified by the WHO as "variants of concern." The newest variant was first detected in India on December 1, 2020. According to the WHO, a variant is considered worrying if it spreads more easily, causes more serious cases of the disease, bypasses the immune system or reduces the effectiveness of known treatments.
Overall, the number of reported infections per week has been increasing for nine weeks, while the number of reported deaths has been increasing for six weeks, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva on Monday.
"There were almost as many cases last week as in the first five months of the pandemic combined," said Tedros.
With IANS and PTI inputs