COVID disaster in India ‘could well happen in other countries’, expert warns

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Rebecca Speare-Cole
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Watch: India coronavirus cases soar past 20 million with health systems on brink of collapse

The COVID disaster in India “could well happen in other countries,” a top UK scientist has warned.

India’s infection rates have skyrocketed since February with the official coronavirus infection count surpassing 20 million on Tuesday after the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases. The true number of cases is far higher due to limited testing. 

COVID-19 deaths have also risen at an alarming speed with the country reporting 3,449 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total toll to more than 220,000 – although the true figures are believed to be considerably higher.

The crisis in India has seen oxygen supplies depleted, hospitals overwhelmed and mass cremations unfold as bodies pile up.

Read: Vaccine passports generate hate and division, COVID expert warns

Dr Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has warned that the situation in India could be seen in other countries if the world doesn't adopt a “global view” on vaccines.

A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receives treatment inside the casualty ward at a hospital in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receives treatment inside the casualty ward at a hospital in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “Unfortunately we could well see the situation in India unfold elsewhere because we have a number of countries that have these characteristics, like relatively low vaccine coverage, circulation of concerning variants, rising cases that combine to create this kind of situation.”

He added: “Places like Cambodia, Fiji and Mongolia are now struggling with outbreaks and lockdowns, so I think there’s some concerning signs really now and then there’s more potentially to come for a number of countries.”

Watch: Doctors scramble for oxygen supplies as India's coronavirus crisis worsens

Kucharski said that a “massive concern” is the limited capacity of healthcare because even just a small outbreak can put “huge stress on their systems.”

“I think really we need to be thinking proactively about how to avoid these situations emerging in other places,” he added.

Kucharski said the world needs to be thinking about vaccine equitability to avoid a situation where there are “rich countries selectively choosing vaccines or vaccinating younger groups while humanitarian crises are unfolding in other countries.”

A policeman asks people who came to receive a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to leave as they stand outside the gate of a vaccination centre which was closed due to unavailability of the supply of COVID-19 vaccine, in Mumbai, India, May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A policeman asks people who came to receive a dose of a coronavirus vaccine to leave as they stand outside the gate of a vaccination centre which was closed due to lack of supply in Mumbai, India. (Reuters)

He said: “We can have vaccines that are working well domestically, but if you have variants emerging globally that’s going to be an ongoing threat.”

His warning comes after repeated pleas from the World Health Organization (WHO), who have urged wealthier countries to share their vaccines with poorer countries.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, last week warned that the outbreak in India is a global crisis.

She told the BBC: "The virus doesn't respect borders, or nationalities, or age, or sex or religion and what's playing out in India now unfortunately has been played out in other countries."

People wait to cremate victims who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People wait to cremate victims who died due to coronavirus at a crematorium ground in New Delhi. (Reuters)

The UK government has been repeatedly criticised for not sending enough aid to India.

In April, it initially sent more than 600 pieces of vital medical equipment, including ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices.

Boris Johnson also vowed he would do whatever he can to support India.

But a body of 6,000 doctors in the UK of Indian origin soon wrote to the prime minister requesting further medical equipment be sent to India as a "matter of urgency".

Read more:
Dalian Atkinson died 'after being tasered for 33 seconds and kicked in head' by police
Landlord refutes Keir Starmer claim he said 'COVID only kills old people' in Bath pub row

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) told Johnson the UK government’s delivery of aid was "minuscule and a drop in the ocean", adding that “their commitment is clearly not going to be enough.”

Last week, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy also insisted the UK "can and must do more" to help tackle the coronavirus emergency in India.

On Sunday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced the UK was sending 1,000 extra ventilators to help India in its battle against the current surge.

He also defended Britain's commitment to international aid, saying that the UK is "still a force for good in the world".

Watch: UK to send 1,000 more ventilators to India as it battles surge in COVID