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Coronavirus Update: New Delhi court threatens to punish Indian government officials if they fail to deliver oxygen to hospitals overwhelmed by COVID cases

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness moved closer to 153 million on Monday as India remained the global hot spot, with a court in New Delhi saying it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver much-needed oxygen to hospitals. Read More...

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 153 million on Monday as India remained the global hot spot, with a court in New Delhi saying it would start punishing government officials for failing to deliver much-needed oxygen to hospitals.

India has the second-highest case tally in the world after the U.S. at 19.9 million after recording 368,147 new cases on Monday and 3,417 deaths, according to its health ministry.

The nation of almost 1.4 billion people counted more than 400,000 cases in a single day over the weekend, the highest one-day tally of any country since the start of the pandemic in late 2019. Those numbers are considered to be widely understated, given the pressure on the country’s underfunded healthcare system. More than 200,000 Indians have died of COVID-19, hospitals are overwhelmed and running low on critical supplies, including oxygen.

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See now: India’s COVID-19 crisis is a ‘crime against humanity,’ says prize-winning author as nation sets new case record

Several hospital authorities asked courts to intervene in securing oxygen supplies in New Delhi, where a lockdown has been extended by a week in an attempt to contain the wave of infections, the Associated Press reported.

“Water has gone above the head. Enough is enough,” said the New Delhi High Court, adding it would start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals are not delivered.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been slammed for his handling of the crisis and in particular for allowing political rallies to be held across the country at which thousands gathered closely without wearing face masks. He has also been criticized for allowing a Hindu festival to go ahead at which thousands took a ritual bath in the river Ganges, also without face masks. Both became superspreader events and allowed a “double-mutant” variant to spread widely. Called the B.1.617 strain, the new variant has two spike proteins instead of one. The World Health Organization said last week that the variant has now been found in at least 17 countries.

The U.S. and other countries are stepping in to help as India’s new coronavirus cases continue to set daily records. The crisis there highlights how one country’s surge could have ripple effects in the global battle against the pandemic. Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Australia became the latest country to ban travel from India, adopting a strict stance that bars even its own citizens from entering the country from India, the BBC reported.

From today, any Australian arriving in the country from India face fines and up to five years in prison. It’s the first time Australians have been criminalized for returning to their country.

The U.S. is suspending travel from India starting Tuesday, in accordance with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week.

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, is starting to slow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Sunday, 312.5 million doses had been delivered to states, 245.6 million doses had been administered, and 147 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 44.3% of the population.

A full 104.8 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 31.6% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc. PFE, +2.83% and German partner BioNTech SE BNTX, +10.75% and Moderna Inc. MRNA, +4.27%, or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +1.45% one-shot vaccine. The AstraZeneca AZN, +0.98% AZN, +4.28% vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 years-and -older, 38 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 69.6% of that group. More than 45 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 82.7% of that population.

“Cases, deaths, and hospitalizations continued trending in the right direction this week; cases are now at their lowest 7-day average since early October 2020,” said Chris Meekins, healthcare analyst at Raymond James.

“This encouraging trend shows in the race between vaccines and variants in the U.S.—vaccines are winning. While we have seen strong uptake of vaccinations thus far; that uptake is slowing dramatically as vaccine hesitancy remains high for a not-insignificant portion of the population,” he added.

New York  Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the state will have a major reopening on May 19, when most capacity restrictions will be lifted.

Restaurants, museums, theaters and retail outlets will be allowed to reopen at full capacity, Cuomo told reporters at a briefing.

Broadway will also be allowed to reopen fully, but theaters are not expected to open before September. Sports arenas will continue to operate at 33% capacity. Cuomo also said the subway will resume operating 24/7 starting on May 17. 

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In other news:

• Biotech Novavax Inc. NVAX, -16.62% said it has expanded its Phase 3 clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate to include 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S., MarketWatch’s Jaimy Lee reported. Novavax’s experimental vaccine is currently being tested in a late-stage trial that began in December in the U.S. and Mexico. The pediatric arm aims to enroll 3,000 teens.

• The European Commission on Monday proposed allowing entry by non-essential travelers to the region, in a bid to restart tourism in some of its hardest hit countries. “The Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorized vaccine,” said the body in a press release. The EU proposes lifting the threshold linked to the number of new COVID-19 cases used in determining a list of countries from which all travel should be allowed. The EU also proposed an “emergency brake” mechanism, that would allow member states to act quickly over COVID-19 variants to temporarily limit travel from affected countries.

As more U.S. adults get their Covid-19 vaccines, a variety of side effects are emerging. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez speaks with an infectious disease specialist on what is common, what isn’t and when to seek medical attention. Photo: Associated Press

• Moderna struck a deal with the Vaccine Alliance, Gavi, to supply up to 500 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Covax, the WHO-backed program that aims to deliver vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, MarketWatch’s Tomi Kilgore reported. The first 34 million doses will be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2021. Gavi will retain the option to acquire an additional 466 million doses in 2022. “We recognize that many countries have limited resources to access COVID-19 vaccines,” said Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel. “We support COVAX’s mission to ensure broad, affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and we remain committed to doing everything that we can to ending this ongoing pandemic with our mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.” 

Read now: Long-haulers are still struggling — ‘I think this virus has physically and mentally aged me more than 10 years’

• Prince Harry joined a charity concern in Los Angeles on Sunday to promote the equitable distribution of COVID vaccines, the Guardian reported. In his first appearance since returning to the U.S. from the funeral of his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Sussex urged people to “look beyond ourselves with empathy and compassion” during a speech at Vax Live, hosted by Global Citizen at the SoFi stadium before an audience of vaccinated guests.

See: Prince Harry urges people to get vaccinated: ‘This pandemic cannot end unless we act collectively’

• Denmark, which recently discontinued use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over rare blood-clotting issues, said it has also decided it will not use the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, also due to worries about blood clots, AFP reported. Danish health officials said the favorable epidemiological situation in the country meant it can rely completely on the two vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

• Germany’s Oktoberfest, the world’s biggest beer festival, has been canceled for a second straight year as the country struggles to contain the latest wave of COVID cases, Reuters reported. Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder told journalists that it was necessary to cancel major events such as the Oktoberfest again this year because they required large financial commitments and the risk was too large given uncertainty over when the pandemic may ease up. “Also, in classic beer halls measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing cannot be enforced,” Soeder said.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 153 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose to 3.2 million. Almost 90 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the data show.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 32.4 million cases, or more than a fifth of the global total, and 577,172 deaths, or almost a fifth of the worldwide toll. 

 Brazil is third after India with 14.8 million cases and second by fatalities at 407,639.

India has replaced Mexico as country with third-highest death toll of 218,959.

Mexico has the fourth-highest death toll at 217,233 and 2.3 million cases, or 15th highest tally.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,796 deaths, the fifth-highest in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,532 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

What’s the economy saying?

Soaring prices and widespread shortages of parts, materials and labor threaten to undercut fast-growing American manufacturers and throw up a roadblock to a U.S. economy still recovering from the coronavirus, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index fell to 60.7% in April from a 38-year high of 65% in the prior month.

The increase fell well short of Wall Street expectations. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast the ISM index to edge up to 65%.

While readings over 60% are exceptional, top manufacturing executives say they are struggling to overcome key shortages that are causing the prices of most goods to rise, in some cases sharply.

“Steel prices are crazy high. The normal checks on the domestic steel mills are not functioning — imported steel is distorted by the Section 232 tariffs,” said a senior executive of a manufacturer of fabricated metal products.

Separately, spending on construction projects rose 0.2% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.51 trillion, the Commerce Department said Monday.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal has expected a 1.8% gain, according to MarketWatch’s Greg Robb.

This is the second straight month where construction spending was below estimates. Spending in February was revised to a decline of 0.6% from the initial estimate of a 0.8% drop, pulled down by severe winter weather in much of the country.

Private construction spending rose 0.7% in March while spending on public construction projects fell 1.5%. Residential construction rose 1.7%. Spending on highways and other nonresidential sectors fell 0.9%.

Over the past year, construction spending is up 5.3%.

Don’t miss: Jobs are coming back as the U.S. economy speeds up and the coronavirus wanes

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.83% and S&P 500 SPX, +0.44% were higher Monday, while the Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.31% moved lower.

See: Dow climbs 260 points as stocks aim to start May with positive tone

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