NEW DELHI: India recorded 53,476 new coronavirus cases in a day, the highest single-day rise so far this year, the Union health ministry said on Thursday.
The active caseload registered an increase for the 15th day in row and was recorded at 3,95,192 comprising 3.35% of the total infections, while the recovery rate has further dropped to 95.28 per cent, the ministry data showed.
In the wake of the surging new cases, the Centre may be forced to recalibrate its vaccine diplomacy.
India has already put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shot made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine-maker, to meet domestic demand as infections rise, Reuters reported quoting two sources.
"Everything else has taken a backseat, for the time being at least," said one of the sources. Both sources had direct knowledge of the matter, but declined to be named as the discussions are not public.
"No exports, nothing till the time the India situation stabilises. The government won't take such a big chance at the moment when so many need to be vaccinated in India."
The move will also impact the supply of the vaccine to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the World Health organisation (WHO) backed Covax vaccine sharing programme under which 64 lower-income countries were to be supplied the doses by SII. India has so far supplied 60.5 million doses — 17.5 million of which were from SII — to the Covax programme but has not exported any vaccine since last Thursday.
While there's no official ban on the export of vaccines, it's not clear how long the 'go-slow' on vaccine exports will last. India has a commitment to supply 200 million doses to the Covax facility this year.
Even as the rising tide of fresh infections forced the government to lower the minimum age for vaccination to 45 and above from April 1 — from 60 and above earlier, for those without co-morbidities — SII CEO Adar Poonawalla had tweeted last month that the company "has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India".
Poonawalla in fact had last week also written a letter to Brazil, Morocco and Saudi Arabia saying that there will be a delay in supplying the doses bought by them — which he had blamed on a fire in the SII plant, after earlier discounting that as a factor in supply delay.
India's current requirements are being met by only two approved vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin, made by Bharat Biotech/ICMR — with approval for other vaccines, such as Sputnik V, yet to come by.
Both SII and Bharat Biotech are also in the process of ramping up their production capacity — while SII can make between 7 to 10 crore doses per month, Bharat Biotech can produce 1.25 crore doses per month.
The Quad Vaccine Partnership, under which the US and Japan will provide funding for manufacture of 1 billion doses, will kick in only by the end of 2022, which means the bulk of the load of vaccination falls on Covishield.
(With inputs from agencies)