NEW DELHI: India’s foreign minister was forced to abandon face-to-face G7 meetings on the pandemic in London on Wednesday because he may have been exposed to Covid-19, as the crisis deepened back home with his nation’s daily death toll hitting a record at almost 3,800.The coronavirus continues to ravage India but in Europe and the United States mass vaccination programmes have allowed the easing of many restrictions.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was in Britain for talks with counterparts from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies but announced he would hold his meetings virtually after possible exposure to virus cases.

India has in recent weeks endured a devastating surge in coronavirus cases, with more than 380,000 infections reported on Wednesday as well as 3,780 deaths.

Experts have warned that case numbers will keep rising until the end of May and could reach 500,000 new infections a day. In an effort to boost the country’s collapsing health system, its reserve bank announced $6.7 billion in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and health firms.

“The devastating speed with which the virus affects different regions of the country has to be matched by swift and wide-ranging actions,” Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das said.

Says he will hold sessions virtually after two members of his delegation test positive

India’s crisis has been partly fueled by a lack of vaccines. This has in turn exacerbated the global shortage as India is the world’s biggest producer of Covid shots. The G7 discussed coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday as pressure grows on the group to share stockpiles and know-how with poorer nations.

India is not part of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies but was invited to the talks by Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the group throughout 2021.However, those talks were thrown into disarray after reports of two cases among the Indian delegation.

He met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in-person, with both wearing masks, on Monday evening on the sidelines of a foreign ministers summit.

Blinken has already received two vaccine doses. The US State Department said it had been advised that its health protocols “would permit us to continue with our G7 activities as planned”.

Australia controversially respon­ded to the surging cases in India by imposing measures under which Australian citizens returning from the country would face jail time.

However after widespread outrage, a federal court on Wednesday agreed to hear a challenge brought by a 73-year-old man living in Bangalore who wishes to return to Australia.

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia said it will tighten restrictions in capital Kuala Lumpur to combat a surge in infections, which have risen to over 3,000 a day.

The pandemic has claimed more than 3.2 million lives worldwide since it first emerged in late 2019, but many wealthy nations have made progress in suppressing the virus as mass vaccination campaigns gather steam. A growing campaign has been calling for patent waivers on vaccines so poorer nations can get quicker access.

More than 1.2 billion doses have been administered globally, but fewer than one percent in the least developed countries.US President Joe Biden said he had not made a decision on whether to support a waiver but that the United States was moving “as quickly as we can” to export doses.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021

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