SRINAGAR, India — For the third day in a row, India set a global daily record with 346,786 coronavirus cases.
That increased India’s total to more than 16 million cases, behind only the United States. The Health Ministry reported another 2,624 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s confirmed death toll to 189,544.
Hospitals in New Delhi and some of the worst-hit states have reported critical shortages of beds and oxygen supplies on Saturday. Families are waiting for days to cremate their loved ones at overburdened crematoriums, with many turning to makeshift facilities for last rites.
Health experts and critics say a downward trend in infections late last year lulled authorities into complacency, and they failed to plug the holes in the ailing health care system that had become evident during the first wave. They also blame politicians and government authorities for allowing super-spreader events, including religious festivals and election rallies, to take place as recently as this month.
“It’s not the virus variants and mutations which are a key cause of the current rise in infections,” Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health expert, tweeted this week. “It’s the variants of ineptitude and abdication of public health thinking by our decision makers.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— India reports record 346,786 coronavirus cases amid world’s worst surge
— US to resume Johnson & Johnson shots, offers warning on rare blood clots
— New York City offers walk-up vaccinations for all ages
— Navajo students describe pandemic struggles to first lady Jill Biden
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemicand https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian government has received the first batch of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines, a gift of 150,000 jabs to Damascus, according to Syrian and Chinese officials.
The Chinese vaccines arrived on Saturday in Damascus airport where they were received by Syria’s Health Minister Hassan Ghabbash and China’s ambassador to Damascus.
The Chinese batch comes a few days after more than 200,000 jabs were delivered to Syria through the United Nations-led platform which provides vaccines to the needy.
The new vaccines are likely to speed up a slow inoculation campaign in the war-torn country whose health sector has been overwhelmed by the virus amid a new surge of infection.
The Syrian government has registered nearly 22,000 confirmed infection cases and more than 1,500 confirmed deaths in areas under its control.
Another batch of UN-provided vaccines — some 53,800 shots — arrived in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave from neighboring Turkey on Wednesday. The first inoculation campaign is expected to begin in that territory, home to some 4 million people, on May 1.
Over 21,000 infections and 640 deaths have been recorded in rebel-held northwestern Syria, while the Kurdish areas in the northeast registered 14,400 cases and 477 deaths.
CAIRO — Egypt’s top health official says there is a “slight but continual” spike in confirmed cases of coronavirus across the country in recent weeks.
Health Minister Hala Zayed says authorities have registered a weekly increase by up to 10% in some areas amid a third wave of the pandemic. She didn’t provide numbers.
She says they provided “large numbers” of intensive care units and ventilators to provinces where cases have been spiked.
Zayed urged people in the Arab world’s most populous country to stick to preventive measures, including wearing face masks and avoiding gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The minister also called for health care workers to register to be vaccinated against the virus. She said only 50 percent of the targeted health care workers registered.
Egypt, with 100 million people, has reported more than 220,650 confirmed cases and 12,959 confirmed deaths.
NEW YORK — Appointments are no longer necessary at any of the coronavirus vaccination sites run by New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced anyone eligible for the vaccine could walk up to any of the city’s mass vaccination sites and get a shot. The change comes as supplies of the vaccine have increased.
Among the city’s unique locations: Beneath the giant blue whale at the Museum of Natural History.
Last week, the city began offering walk-up vaccinations to everyone age 50 and over. De Blasio said it went well enough that the city is now doing the same for people of all ages.
Through Friday, about 40% of all New York City residents had gotten at least one vaccine dose. About 26% have been fully vaccinated.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has reached an agreement with the global aid agencies he has often shunned to bring help to his country’s people.
Maduro this week signed a deal to let the United Nations World Food Program provide school meals for 1.5 million children. It follows an agreement worked out with another agency to access COVID-19 vaccines under a U.N.-backed program.
Maduro for years had rejected numerous humanitarian aid offers as unnecessary and as veiled attempts by the United States and other hostile forces to destabilize his socialist government. That stance appears to have wavered amid continuing hardships.
Venezuela has been vaccinating part of its population with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and the Chinese Sinopharm. Maduro’s government on April 10 announced it had covered a $64 million down payment to join the U.N.-backed COVAX vaccine program, which helps poorer nations get shots.
TEHRAN — Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency is reporting the country’s civil aviation agency has banned all flights to and from India and Pakistan because of the dramatic surge in coronavirus cases in the two nations.
IRNA says the decision was made by Iran’s Health Ministry and it takes effect Saturday at midnight.
Mohammad Hassan Zibakhsh, spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization noted there are no routine flights between Iran and India and “flights are operated occasionally.”
Several other countries in the region, including the sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait, also have banned flights to and from India over the rise in coronavirus cases there.
Zibakhsh said flights to and from 41 countries already were prohibited in Iran, while those who want to fly to other countries listed as high risk are required to have a coronavirus test in Iran. Travelers over 8 years old need to submit a negative PCR test within 96 hours of departure and do another test on arrival.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 18,230 new confirmed cases over 24 hours, bringing Iran’s total on Saturday to more than 2,377,000.
BERLIN — Germany is sharply restricting travel from India because of concern about a mutated version of the coronavirus that has been detected in the South Asian nation.
The Funke media group on Saturday quoted German Health Minister Jens Spahn saying the government will shortly add India to its list of “variant of concern” areas.
The classification means that starting Monday, only German citizens will be allowed to fly from India to Germany. Passengers will need to be tested before departure and immediately go into quarantine for 14 days after landing.
The Health Ministry confirmed the decision. It said that so far there have only been individual reported cases of the variant from India, which is known to scientists as B.1.617.
Germany only added India to the list of “high incidence areas” on Friday, due to the surge in COVID-19 cases reported there.
Several flights from India were due to arrive at Frankfurt airport Sunday.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials have lifted an 11-day pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations following a recommendation by an expert panel.
Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday the benefits of the single-dose COVID-19 shot outweigh a rare risk of blood clots.
The CDC and Food and Drug Administration decided that J&J’s one-shot vaccine is critical to fight the pandemic — and the small clot risk could be handled with warnings to help younger women decide if they should use that shot or an alternative.
The initial reports of blood clots involved six women ages 18 to 48, including one death, among the 6.8 million J&J shots given in the U.S.
Panelists voted 10-4 to resume vaccinations without outright age restrictions, but made clear that the shots must come with clear warnings about the clots.
European regulators this week made a similar decision, saying the clot risk was small enough to allow rollout.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to accept nationwide pandemic restrictions that came into force at midnight, resulting in a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfews, further limits on personal contacts and access to non-essential stores in regions with high infection rates.
In her weekly video address Saturday, Merkel acknowledged that the new rules are “tough” but insisted they are needed to curb the spread of the virus in the country.
Germany’s disease control agency on Friday reported 23,392 newly confirmed cases and more 286 deaths from COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has recorded almost 3.3 million cases and 81,444 deaths.
Merkel said the new measures, which automatically come into force in regions with more than 100 newly reported cases a week per 100,000 inhabitants, are “urgently needed.”
Citing other countries such as Britain, Portugal and Ireland that saw infection rates sharply reduced during strict lockdowns, she defended Germany’s new restrictions against critics who have called them excessive.
“No country that managed to break the third wave of the pandemic and then loosen restrictions again did so without tough measures such as nighttime curfews,” Merkel said.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities are urging people to avoid large gatherings and stay at home as much as possible as confirmed COVID-19 cases rapidly rise across the island nation.
Separately, prison authorities have banned visitors for two weeks starting Saturday due to the spike in infections.
The number of new confirmed cases in Sri Lanka has tripled in recent days. For several weeks, the number of cases reported daily stood below 300 and on Friday, it was 969.
The country is still in the midst of an outbreak that erupted in October after two infection clusters, one centered in a garment factory and the other in a fish market, emerged in the capital Colombo and its suburbs.
The number of confirmed cases from the two clusters had grown to 92,595 as of Friday. Sri Lanka has reported a total of nearly 99,000 cases and more than 630 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria is easing restrictions ahead of Orthodox Easter and the start of the summer vacation season even as the COVID-19 morbidity rate remains relatively high.
The government is allowing indoor church services on Palm Sunday and Easter but requiring them to be reduced in length. The willow branches traditionally handed out on Palm Sunday also must be distributed outside church buildings.
Worshippers also are advised not to touch or kiss religious icons, and to avoid crowds and wear protective masks.
The tourism sector, which normally provides up to 12% of the Bulgaria’s country’s gross domestic product, has been hard hit by pandemic restrictions and hopes to see visitors return soon to the country’s Black Sea resorts.
Health Minister Kostadin Angelov announced that foreign tourists arriving after May 1 must be tested, vaccinated or recovered from a COVID-19 infection. Angelov said that an accelerated vaccination campaign will allow authorities to further ease restrictions over the next month.
Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7 million, has reported a total of 396,302 COVID-19 cases and 15,826 deaths in the pandemic, and having administered 700,000 vaccine shots.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Saturday reported its highest COVID-19 death toll in a single day.
Authorities reported 157 deaths, bringing the overall fatalities to 16,999. A total of 5,908 additional cases pushed the toll to 790,016, as authorities complain of routine violations of social distancing and mask-wearing rules.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday announced that military troops will be called to help police enforce the restrictions in public places.
Authorities also decided to keep educational institutions closed until the situation improved.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a talk show Saturday that despite the increasing cases and deaths, Pakistan’s situation was better than in neighboring India. He said a planeload of 500,000 doses of China’s Sinovac vaccines arrived on Friday.
BUCHAREST, Romania — A “vaccination marathon” was launched Friday afternoon in Romania’s western city of Timisoara where anyone can turn up without an appointment to receive a vaccine against COVID-19.
Around 10,000 Pfizer vaccine shots have been made available for the three-day, round-the-clock event at Timisoara’s Regional Business Center, and will be administered by volunteers from the medical sector.
“As doctors in intensive care units … we fight every day to save as many lives as possible. But now, compared to this time last year, we have the power to get out of the pandemic together — through vaccination,” intensive care doctor Dorel Sandesc told local media.
Anyone over the age of 16 who can present a national identity card will be able to receive a vaccine, whereas minors will need written consent from a guardian. Booster jabs will be administered in the same “marathon” format in 21 days.
Since the pandemic started, Romania has recorded 1,042,521 positive COVID-19 infections, 27,113 have died, and more than 4.5 million vaccine shots have been administered to its population of more than 19 million.
WASHINGTON — The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that pregnant people receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Agency Director Rochelle Walensky announced the recommendation during an update on the pandemic at a White House briefing. She noted that a CDC study published this week found no safety concerns with Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations given during the third trimester of pregnancy.
‘’We know that this is a deeply personal decision, and I encourage people to talk to their doctors or primary care providers to determine what is best for them and for their baby,’’ Walensky said.
Her recommendation seems to go farther than advice on CDC’s website, which says the vaccines are unlikely to pose a safety risk during pregnancy but doesn’t flat-out recommend the shots.
The new study is based on reports from pregnant women who got shots soon after the vaccines became available. The researchers called for more data, including from vaccination earlier in pregnancy.
COVID-19 can be dangerous in pregnancy, raising risks for complications and even death.
Pregnant women were excluded from COVID-19 vaccination studies although there is limited safety data on some who became pregnant after enrolling.
KARACHI, Pakistan — A prominent Pakistani charity offered medical help to archrival neighboring India in managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Faisal Edhi, the head of Edhi Foundation, made the offer in a letter to the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. Edhi’s offer comes after India reported another global record in daily infections for a second straight day, adding 332,730 new cases.
In his letter, Edhi sought permission from Modi to travel to India with volunteers and 50 ambulances to assist Indian health workers. Edhi says he’ll lead his medical team, which will pay for the accommodation and food for his volunteers during the stay in India.
India’s response to the offer was not yet known. Edhi Foundation is known for humanitarian relief work in Pakistan, where is also runs the country’s largest ambulance service.
Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations. They’ve fought two of the three wars on the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.