People in the Indian state of West Bengal are voting in the final phase of elections despite soaring Covid cases.

Long queues were seen outside polling booths, raising concerns about the further spread of the virus as a deadly second wave sweeps the country.

Experts already fear that West Bengal could be the next epicentre of the virus, as campaigning has continued there with large crowds.

It recorded more than 17,000 cases in the last 24 hours – a new high.

The state has already seen seven phases of voting. The eastern state is one of the few where Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have a majority of seats.

There has been a lot of criticism that he continued to hold large rallies there even as the virus began overwhelming the country.

The BBC’s correspondent in the area, Amitabha Bhattasali, says some of the biggest rallies, including those attended by Mr Modi, saw throngs of people not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.

What is happening now in India?

Hospitals have been overwhelmed, oxygen is in critically low supply and crematoriums are operating non-stop.

The overall death toll officially surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, though experts believe the actual number could be much higher.

The country also reported 379,257 new infections on Thursday, the world’s highest single-day total.

It was the deadliest day so far, with 3,645 people succumbing to the coronavirus.

People cremate their relativesimage copyrightReuters
image captionCrematoriums are working throughout the night and using empty spaces like parks and car parks to build makeshift funeral pyres

What about vaccines?

The government had said that all adults will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations from 1 May, with online registration opening from 28 April.

But people on social media complained that they were not able to get slots because the website crashed soon after it opened.

So far, India has been vaccinating health workers, front line workers and adults over the age of 45.

But less than 10% of the population has received an initial jab and there are concerns about meeting demand.

Although India is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, it does not yet have the stocks for the roughly 600 million people who will be eligible from 1 May.

Number of cases and deaths
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The White House says the United States is redirecting its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, allowing it to to make more than 20 million doses of the vaccine.

Epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee says India must combine the immunisation drive with a widespread lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.

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Several parts of the country are under lockdown and curfew, including in the capital Delhi.

The government of Maharashtra, which is home to the financial capital Mumbai, is considering extending its lockdown until mid-May.

There is no lockdown or curfew in West Bengal state though.


US: Study Finds Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Effective in Preventing Older Adult Hospitalizations

More real-world evidence of the vaccines working: A CDC study finds the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 94 percent effective against hospitalization in older adults

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 94 percent effective in preventing hospitalization for COVID-19 among people age 65 and older, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study released Wednesday.

The study provides new evidence on the benefits of vaccination, and builds on results from the clinical trials by adding real-world evidence from 417 hospitalized adults in 14 states from January to March.

“This multisite U.S. evaluation under real-world conditions suggests that vaccination provided protection against COVID-19–associated hospitalization among adults aged [65 and older],” the study states.

The virus is particularly dangerous for older people, so the results in that age group are particularly important.

The 94 percent effectiveness was for people who were fully vaccinated, meaning they were at least two weeks past their second dose. For people who were only partially vaccinated, meaning they were more than two weeks past the first dose but less than two weeks past the second dose, effectiveness was 64 percent.


Mexico Plays Down Delivery Delays of Russian Vaccine

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Wednesday played down delays in shipments of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine during a trip to Moscow where he worked out a deal to produce the shot domestically to speed up its rollout.

Mexico has relied heavily on foreign vaccines, including Sputnik, to supplement its slow vaccination campaign, but delays have hampered efforts to cover its population of 126 million.

“Virtually all companies have had delays,” Ebrard said in audio comments shared by his ministry. “There’s not a single one that has 100% met its delivery schedules for different reasons.”

Russia has shipped just over a million Sputnik V doses to Mexico to date, far fewer than the number originally slated. Mexico said in February it planned to receive 7.4 million doses of Sputnik V by April and 16.6 million more shots in May.

Mexico has signed an agreement to acquire 24 million doses.

Ebrard said Mexico was one of the countries that had thus far received the most Sputnik vaccines.

Earlier, he announced that Mexico’s state-run vaccine manufacturer Birmex would handle the final packaging and filling of the vaccine.

Bottling the Russian shot in Mexico could start as early as May, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine abroad, said on Twitter.

About a million people in Mexico had been vaccinated with Sputnik V thus far, Ebrard said.

“The results are very positive, which speaks of the quality of science and technological development in (Russia),” he said.

Ebrard said the vaccine’s active ingredient would be sent to Mexico from Russia, though that could change in due course.

“If we had the packaging capacity in Mexico as we’re doing now with (Chinese vaccine) CanSino or AstraZeneca, the possibilities of having a greater number of doses would increase,” he added.