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India surpasses grim milestone of 200,000 COVID deaths amid surge

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A relative of a patient who died of COVID, mourns outside a government hospital in Ahmedabad, India. April 27, 2021.
A relative of a patient who died of COVID, mourns outside a government hospital in Ahmedabad, India. April 27, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
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The death toll from coronavirus in India surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, with more than 3,000 deaths reported in 24 hours for the first time, according to official data.

A total of 201,187 people had died from the outbreak in the country as of Tuesday, the health ministry said, although many experts believe the true figure is higher.

India recorded a total of 18 million infections, with 360,000 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. Nearly six million new cases are from April alone.

The country currently has the fourth-highest death toll in the world, behind only the US, Brazil and Mexico.

Crematoriums across India are struggling to keep up with the task of accommodating the pile-up of bodies.

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of dead, funeral areas in New Delhi have been extended with new plots outlined with red bricks in an attempt to keep up with the influx.

Those experiencing the dire situation on the ground also believe death toll figures being provided by the government are suspiciously low.

A first shipment of medical aid from Britain arrived on Tuesday, which included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators.

Other nations, including the US, Germany, Israel and Pakistan, have also promised medical aid.

How did things get so bad in India?

Shahid Jameel, a virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, told Euronews the COVID crisis raging in the country was ultimately due to a "coming together of multiple factors" including that of vaccine hesitancy.

According to Jameel, there are three key factors driving the latest surge: complacency, variants and "large spreader events".

Complacency exists at the individual, government and public policy levels, he said, while the emergence of more infectious variants pose further danger as they could potentially "break through existing immunity".

Variants currently of concern include Kent B117, which has spread rapidly across the UK and dozens of other countries, as well as the B.1.617 variant, which was first detected in India. It is not currently known whether the latter is more or less contagious, or how it will respond to vaccination.

Meanwhile, large events planned without enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing measures have also borne the brunt of the blame for the newest wave.

These include events that "built up the momentum", said Jameel, pointing to large weddings, cricket matches, state elections and religious festivals.

In March, millions of Hindus gathered on the banks of the Ganges to celebrate the Kumbh Mela festival, many shrugging off COVID measures.

"We were caught unprepared," the virologist said.

The founder and director of BioNTech, which co-developed a vaccine with Pfizer, said on Wednesday that he is "confident" their jab can protect against the India variant.

Tests are underway, Ugur Sahin told an online press conference, but "the Indian variant has mutations that we have already studied and against which our vaccine works, which makes us confident."

India has so far administered more than 140 million doses of the vaccine, fully immunizing 22.6 million of its 1.4 billion population, according to Our World in Data.

The country is one of the biggest manufacturers and exporters of vaccines in the world and has so far been using the jab developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford University — which the Serum Institute of India has been licensed to produce — and a home-grown vaccine called Covaxin.

The Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine has also been approved but has not yet been rolled out.