By Rajendra Jadhav and Sumit Khanna
SATARA/AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) -Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi called for a nationwide lockdown as the country’s tally of coronavirus infections surged past 20 million on Tuesday, becoming the second nation after the United States to pass the grim milestone.
India’s deadly second wave of infections, the world’s biggest surge in coronavirus infections, has seen it take just over four months to add 10 million cases, versus more than 10 months for its first 10 million.
Currently, the country has 3.45 million active cases.
On Tuesday, India reported 357,229 new cases over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose 3,449 for a toll of 222,408, health ministry data showed.
Medical experts say actual numbers in India could be five to 10 times higher than those reported.
“The only way to stop the spread of Corona now is a full lockdown… GOI’s inaction is killing many innocent people,” Congress party MP Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to the Government of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown due to the economic fall out, yet several states have imposed various social restrictions.
The surge in cases of the highly infectious Indian variant of COVID-19 has swamped the health system, drained supplies of medical oxygen vital for survival for those infected, and seen patients dying in ambulances and carparks outside hospitals.
Rows of funeral pyres in parks and carparks cremate the overflow of corpses.
Modi has been criticized for not moving sooner to limit the latest wave of infections and for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies during March and April.
“What the recent weeks reveal is that both Centre and states have been woefully unprepared for the second wave,” an editorial in the Times of India said on Tuesday.
Offering a glimmer of hope, coronavirus cases in some regions were plateauing, a federal health ministry official said on Monday. Government modelling shows cases could peak by Wednesday this week, a few days earlier than a previous estimate, since the virus has spread faster than expected.
The surge in COVID-19 in India has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations, due to problems with supplies and delivery.
At least three Indian states, including the richest state of Maharashtra which includes Mumbai, continued to report vaccine scarcity, shutting down some of its vaccination centres.
The state on Monday administered 79,491 doses, compared to a record 534,372 a week ago.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, the three largest cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara limited vaccines to the 18-44 age group, officials said.
The eastern state of Odisha also halted vaccination drives in 11 out of its 30 districts, local health officials told Reuters, citing paucity of resources.
“I am tired of standing in a queue. I will try one more time. If I don’t get it then, I will give up,” said Anil Rajapure, a 49-year-old farmer in Maharashtra’s Satara town, who has failed to get his first vaccine shot after three attempts due to either stocks running out or not arriving.
Public forecasts by India’s two current vaccine producers show total monthly output of 70-80 million doses would increase only in two months or more, although the number of people eligible for vaccines has doubled to an estimated 800 million since May 1. Just 9.5% of the population of 1.35 billion has received at least a single dose.
India has invited Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna Inc to sell their vaccines to the country but none have applied to do so yet.
Pfizer has told the Indian government that there was no concern over the safety of its COVID-19 vaccine, as the country insists on small local trials for foreign shots despite a record surge in infections and shortage of doses.
International aid continued to arrive in India on Tuesday, with 545 oxygen concentrators from the United States landing, the fifth in a series of consignments carrying medical equipment.
(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)