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India launches biggest vaccination drive yet to combat rising COVID-19 numbers

India began vaccinating tens of thousands of people above the age of 45 on Thursday (April 1) in its biggest push yet against a surging coronavirus that has hit the highest daily count since early October, officials said.

The world’s second-most populous country aims to immunise 400 million people after expanding the programme, which had been restricted to the over-60s and people with serious health conditions, said a government official.

People lined up early at New Delhi’s Max hospital to get shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines.

India kicked off its inoculation programme in January focused on health workers and then the elderly, saying it wanted to cover the most vulnerable first.

It also shipped millions of doses of the vaccine to neighbouring countries and then across the world as part of a diplomatic initiative to win friends, but of late this has prompted criticism that people at home were being neglected.

Adding to the pressure on the government, the daily rise in cases has quadrupled in the space of a month as most of India has reopened for business and travel curbs have been lifted.

Data released by the health ministry on Thursday showed 72,330 new COVID-19 infections, the highest since Oct. 11. Deaths stand at 162,927.

India’s overall caseload stood at 12.22 million, making it the third-worst affected globally, behind the United States and Brazil.

(Production: Iona Serrapica, Lisa Giles-Keddie)

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