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India’s death toll tops 400,000 as delta variant gains ground worldwide

Doctors in Chennai, India, hold a candlelight vigil in tribute to health workers who lost their lives to covid-19. India's death toll from the coronavirus topped 400,000 Friday. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)
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India’s official coronavirus death toll surpassed 400,000 on Friday, as the nation continued to grapple with the fallout of a devastating spring surge in cases, an outbreak that was driven in part by the more contagious delta variant now gaining ground in the United States and around the world.

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At least 400,312 people have died of the virus in India since the pandemic began, the government said, out of more than 30 million confirmed infections. Experts believe both figures are vast undercounts, as record numbers of patients and deaths overwhelmed the country’s health-care system.

While the outbreak appears to have peaked in India — with 853 deaths recorded over the past 24 hours — the more virulent variant that spurred its spring wave is now seeding new virus clusters from Moscow to Jakarta to rural Missouri.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The Seychelles, one of the world’s most vaccinated nations, said that six fully inoculated people have died of the virus. Five had received an Indian-made version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, while one was administered Sinopharm shots.
  • Indonesia recorded a record number of cases (24,836) and deaths (504) on Thursday. Local leaders warned that hospital capacity was under severe stress. The country has now placed two highly populous areas under lockdown.
  • Portugal reimposed a nighttime curfew on several “high-risk” cities including Lisbon and Porto. The country reported over 2,400 new cases on Thursday, many of which were among unvaccinated young people.
  • Facing outbreaks of the contagious delta variant and a floundering vaccination campaign, Australia moved Friday to further seal itself off from the world as its earlier success in tackling the coronavirus continued to unravel.
  • South Korea reported 826 new infections on Friday — its highest daily caseload in almost a half-year. After an exponential increase in vaccinations through mid-June, the pace has started slowing. Seoul recently relaxed a mask mandate for partially inoculated people.

The delta variant, first detected in India, has caused steep spikes in new cases even in nations with high vaccination rates such as Britain and Israel, which on Thursday recorded its highest daily infection rate in three months, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, England’s public health authority said that new delta cases had risen 46 percent over the past week, with the variant accounting for about 95 percent of infections across Britain. And in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Friday that the variant now makes up around a third of new cases, Reuters reported, after saying earlier this week that it represented approximately just 20 percent of infections.

Officials in both Britain and Israel, however, have credited the vaccines — including those developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech — with weakening the link between infections and deaths.

“Although cases are rising, we are not seeing a proportional rise in the number of people who are being admitted to hospital,” Jenny Harries, chief executive of Britain’s Health Security Agency, said in a statement Friday.

Studies suggest that all three U.S.-approved vaccines work well against the delta variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday is also on track to become dominant in the United States in the coming weeks.

According to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who spoke at a White House briefing Thursday, the delta variant now accounts for nearly 50 percent of new infections in parts of the United States, including in what she described as “vulnerable” regions where inoculation rates are low.

Katerina Ang in Singapore contributed to this report.

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