India’s confirmed coronavirus cases have passed 10 million with new infections dipping to their lowest levels in three months, as the country prepares for a massive Covid-19 vaccination programme in the new year.
Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak of nearly 100,000 in mid-September. The epidemic has infected nearly 1% of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second to the worst-hit country in the world, the US.
The health ministry on Saturday also reported 347 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 145,136.
Dr Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said India was keeping its fingers crossed as the cases tended to increase in winter months.
“If we can sustain our declining trend for the next two to three months, we should be able to start the vaccination programme and start moving away from the pandemic,” Guleria said.
India is home to several of the world’s biggest manufacturers of vaccines and there are five vaccine candidates under different phases of trial in the country.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is licensed to produce the Oxford University/AstraZeneca shots. India’s Bharat Biotech vaccine also is a frontrunner, and the two vaccines are expected to get authorisation for emergency use within weeks, said Guleria.
India aims to provide vaccines to 250 million people by July 2021. The government plans to receive 450m to 500m doses, the health ministry said.
The first group will include healthcare and frontline workers. The second group to receive the Covid-19 vaccine will be people over 50 years of age and those under 50 with comorbid conditions, it said.
The pace of new cases has slowed down. It took India 12 days to get from 5 million to 6 million cases, but 22 days to go from 8 million to 9 million, and 29 days to hit 10 million.
India’s economy contracted by 7.5% in the July-September quarter after a record slump of 23.9% in the previous three months, pushing the country into a recession for the first time in its history. With millions becoming jobless, the Indian government is continuing to relax harsh lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March.
A large number of offices, shops, businesses, alcohol shops, bars and restaurants have reopened. Restricted domestic and international evacuation flights are being operated along with train services. Schools remain closed.