South Asian country reports 3,645 additional deaths, taking its tally to 204,832, as first of several medical shipments promised by donor countries reached India on Wednesday.

People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus disease at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India on April 26, 2021.
People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus disease at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India on April 26, 2021. (Reuters)

India has set another global record in new virus cases, with another 375,000 people infected, as the country gears up to open its vaccination rollout to all adults on Saturday.

It now has reported more than 18.3 million cases, behind only the United States. The health ministry also reported 3,645 deaths in the last 24-hour period, bringing India's total to 204,832, according to the health ministry. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.

India has set a global record for daily new cases for seven of the past eight days.

READ MORE: India’s virus deaths top 200,000 as cases soar and economy hurts

Vaccination efforts

Starting on Wednesday, all Indians 18 and older were allowed to register on a government app for vaccinations, but social media were flooded with complaints the app had crashed due to high use, and once it was working again, no appointments were available.

The mass vaccination drive for the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people began in January and has crawled along since. Nearly 10 percent of people have received one jab, but only around 1.5 percent have received both required doses. The latest effort to vaccinate those between ages 18 and 44 is expected to face problems, including whether states even have enough supplies.

On Wednesday, the health minister in hard-hit Maharashtra state promised free vaccines for that age group but clarified the state didn't have enough stock to start giving the vaccines on Saturday.

The recent surge has been partly fed by new variants of the coronavirus, mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue, and relaxed attitudes on the risks fed by leaders touting victory over the virus.

READ MORE: 'Massacre of data': Experts say India is undercounting its Covid deaths

Collapsing healthcare system

The second wave of infections has overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums and prompted an increasingly urgent response from allies overseas sending equipment.

"India’s Covid outbreak is a humanitarian crisis," U.S. Democratic Senator Eliza beth Warren said on Twitter.

"I’m leading a letter to @moderna_tx, @pfizer, and @jnjnews to find out what steps they’re taking to expand global access to their vaccines to save lives and prevent variants from spreading around the world."

Two planes from Russia, carrying 20 oxygen concentrators, 75 ventilators, 150 bedside monitors, and medicines totalling 22 metric tonnes, arrived in the capital Delhi on Thursday.

The United States is sending supplies worth more than $100 million to India, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

It said the supplies will begin arriving on Thursday.

The United States also has redirected its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make over 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the White House.

India will receive a first batch of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 on May 1. Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which is marketing Sputnik V globally, has already signed agreements with five leading Indian manufacturers for over 850 million doses of the vaccine a year.

Delhi is reporting one death from Covid-19 every four minutes and ambulances have been taking the bodies of Covid-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows and rows of funeral pyres.

The US State Department issued a travel advisory warning on Wednesday against travel to India because of the pandemic and approved the voluntary departure of family members of US government employees in India.

Modi criticised

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for allowing massive political rallies and religious festivals which have been super spreader events in recent weeks.

More than 8.4 million eligible voters are set to vote on Thursday in the last phase of an eight-part election in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, even as the state witnesses a record rise in coronavirus cases.

"The people of this country are entitled to a full and honest account of what led more than a billion people into a catastrophe," Vikram Patel, The Pershing Square Professor of Global Health in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Ha rvard Medical School said in The Hindu newspaper.

The South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Udaya Regmi, said the world was entering a critical phase of the pandemic and needed to have vaccinations available for all adults as soon as possible.

Early modelling showed that the B.1.617 variant of the virus detected in India had a higher growth rate than other variants in the country, suggesting increased transmissibility, it said.

The World Health Organization said in its weekly epidemiological update that India accounted for 38 percent of the 5.7 million cases reported worldwide to it last week. 

READ MORE: What went wrong in India's battle against Covid-19?

Source: AP