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Why India's Surge Could Be a Problem for the Planet

Because of variants and vaccines, essentially
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2021 10:20 AM CDT

(Newser) – Though it's been widely reported that India's COVID-19 death toll is likely an undercount, the count it is putting forth passed the 200,000 mark on Wednesday. CNBC reports the 3,293 deaths logged brings the country's number of coronavirus fatalities to 201,187. New infections numbered 360,960 and were the seventh straight day above the 300,000 mark. The BBC makes the case that this surge is concerning not just for India but for the planet. It gives two reasons:

  • First, variants: With every infection comes the opportunity for the virus to evolve. More infections equal more opportunity, and the ultimate fear is that a mutation could arise that our current vaccines wouldn't work against.
  • Indeed, CNN reports that the recent surge synced with the appearance of a new Indian variant called B.1.617 and known as the "double mutant"—meaning it features two mutations—that scientists are still performing genomic sequencing on.

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  • Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times' New Delhi bureau chief, writes this of the variant: "Doctors are pretty scared. Some we have spoken to said they had been vaccinated twice and still got seriously ill, a very bad sign."
  • Vaccines are reason two. The Serum Institute of India is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, and it was to be a key part in the COVAX initiative, which will see vaccines shipped to low- and middle-income countries. Except that effort was frozen last month in India as the cases began to mount.
  • India's own vaccine numbers are paltry: It has yet to get 10% of its population to even receive the first shot; only 1.6% are fully vaccinated.
  • Gettleman's full piece is worth a read, but it's harrowing. Of India's transition from a more mildly punishing first wave to this, he recounts being out reporting in January and February and seeing no one "and I mean no one, including police officers" wearing a mask.
  • He writes that during his nearly two decades of reporting abroad, he's "covered combat zones, been kidnapped in Iraq, and been thrown in jail in more than a few places. This is unsettling in a different way. There's no way of knowing if my two kids, wife or I will be among those who get a mild case and then bounce back to good health, or if we will get really sick. And if we do get really sick, where will we go? ICUs are full. Gates to many hospitals have been closed." (Read his piece here.)

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