India becomes new COVID-19 epicenter, impact may spread to South Asia: expert
Published: Apr 16, 2021 12:01 AM
Photo taken on July 16, 2020 shows a COVID-19 care center at the commonwealth games village in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Partha Sarkar/Xinhua

Photo taken on July 16, 2020 shows a COVID-19 care center at the commonwealth games village in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Partha Sarkar/Xinhua

India reported a record single-day number of 200,739 new infections on Thursday and 1,038 new fatalities from COVID-19. Experts warned that the epidemic will continue to expand in India, a new epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak following the US, and may impact South Asia and beyond.

The total number of cases in the country has surpassed 14.07 million, according to data from India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday morning, second only to the US which has recorded 31.4 million cases in total.

The government's lax attitude has allowed the epidemic to get out of control in the country and the situation will continue as its health-care resources have been overstretched, Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

"The outbreak in India could spiral further out of control, with knock-on effects across South Asia," Hu noted.

A new wave of COVID-19 infections began in India in March. Despite the situation worsening day by day, the country on Monday held the Maha Kumbh Mela festival, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, with thousands of people gathering in the city of Haridwar on the banks of the River Ganges. 

"India's economy was hit hard by several nationwide lockdowns in the past year, so both India's central government and the state governments, including the state of Maharashtra, an important economic province in India, are eager to boost the economy," Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Thursday. "The holding of such religious festivals actually brings a lot of economic stimulus."

Lan Jianxue, deputy director of the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that the epidemic will further weaken India's overall national strength and international image if it is not properly handled.

He added that the government should focus on epidemic control as the epidemic rebound is the biggest threat to India right now.

Amid the COVID-19 spike, the hardest-hit state of Maharashtra on Tuesday declared a strict "janta curfew" from 8pm on Wednesday to 7am on May 1, during which residents will not be allowed to go out unless there is an emergency. 

Due to the COVID-19 situation, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's visit to India this month has been shortened and won't include stopovers in Mumbai and Pune, reports said. 

Although it is one of the largest COVID-19 vaccine producers, India faces a vaccine shortage in its domestic supply, which may have a further impact on the situation, experts said.

Multiple states in India, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand have complained that they are facing a shortage of vaccines, and some vaccination centers have reportedly been shut down, though the government later denied there was any shortage, the Hindustan Times reported. 

Previously, India suspended exports of COVID-19 vaccines, probably in order to give priority to its own supplies, Lan noted. But he said that the hoarding of vaccines by developed countries such as the US is also detrimental to India's fight against the epidemic.

To increase vaccine supplies, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. 

Although the vaccines may temporarily curb the virus' transmission, the supply is still insufficient to support India's huge population, Hu said.

As of Thursday, about 114.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the country, or 8.38 doses per 100 people on average in its total population of 1.36 billion. In January, India set an ambitious goal to inoculate 300 million of its people by July.