India joins the ‘red list’: Passengers must now enter UK hotel quarantine

Thousands have raced into the UK from Covid-hit India – including the super-rich in private jets – to get back to Britain before today’s 4am ‘red list’ quarantine deadline brought in as a ‘coronavirus storm’ tears through the country.

The Asian nation is now recording a global record of 315,000 cases per day as a virulent variant of coronavirus sweeps the subcontinent, while the health ministry said there were 2,074 daily fatalities but experts believe the true figure is at least ten times higher.

The last chartered flight from India landed at Heathrow at 7pm last night with people paying up to £2,000 for a usual £400 ticket. But others hired $10,000-an-hour private jets for the 12-hour, 6,000-mile trip, to get to the UK, MailOnline can reveal today. One, chartered from Mumbai to Luton, took the decision to fly over wartorn Iraq, a route usually shunned by pilots, to get back to Britain in time.

This morning at 7am the first flights from India landed in the UK, but the hundreds on board each flight must now stay in a government-approved quarantine hotels for ten days on arrival. 

India’s health infrastructure has been brought to its knees by a second wave which is three times higher than the first, with medics pointing to a new variant believed to be more infectious. Hospitals have run out of oxygen while the dead in poorer areas are being disposed of in mass cremations.

Some families in Delhi are being forced to keep their dead loved ones, often a mother or father, in their homes for days after their deaths in 30C to 37C temperatures because of a lack of space in the city’s crematoriums.

Such are the concerns about the Indian strain that Heathrow Airport refused requests for extra flights from India before it was added to to No10’s travel red list at 4am this morning due to concerns of transmission in the long border queues.  

Indian families speak after they land at Heathrow on the last scheduled flight into the the UK last night before India joined the 'red list'

Indian families speak after they land at Heathrow on the last scheduled flight into the the UK last night before India joined the 'red list'

Indian families speak after they land at Heathrow on the last scheduled flight into the the UK last night before India joined the ‘red list’ 

Thousands of people in India have rushed to get to the UK as the country's health system creaks under the pressure of cases

Thousands of people in India have rushed to get to the UK as the country's health system creaks under the pressure of cases

Thousands of people in India have rushed to get to the UK as the country’s health system creaks under the pressure of cases

A man walks past burning funeral pyres of people in New Delhi, with 2,074 daily fatalities but experts say the true figure could be at least ten times higher

A man walks past burning funeral pyres of people in New Delhi, with 2,074 daily fatalities but experts say the true figure could be at least ten times higher

A man walks past burning funeral pyres of people in New Delhi, with 2,074 daily fatalities but experts say the true figure could be at least ten times higher

The Indian government reported a global record of 314,000 new cases after premier Narendra Modi warned that the subcontinent was being overwhelmed by a coronavirus 'storm'

The Indian government reported a global record of 314,000 new cases after premier Narendra Modi warned that the subcontinent was being overwhelmed by a coronavirus 'storm'

The Indian government reported a global record of 314,000 new cases after premier Narendra Modi warned that the subcontinent was being overwhelmed by a coronavirus ‘storm’

The variant – also known as B.1.617 – was first noted internationally in October and first identified in the UK on February 22.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT? 

Real name: B.1.617

When and where was it discovered? The variant was first reported by the Indian government in late March. 

But the first cases appear to date back to October 2020. 

It has been detected in 21 countries as of April 19, Public Health England bosses say.

How many people in the UK have been infected with it? Matt Hancock revealed there had been 103 cases so far since it was first spotted on February 22.

But Public Health England’s latest report, published on April 15, says 77. These were detected in England and Scotland.

What mutations does it have? It has 13 mutations that separate it from the original Covid virus that emerged in China — but the two main ones are named E484Q and L452R.

Scientists suspect these two alterations can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants. 

Is it more infectious and can it evade vaccines? The L452R mutation is also found on the Californian variant (B.1.429), even though the two evolved independently. It is thought to make the American strain 20 per cent more infectious. 

The E484Q mutation is very similar to the one found in the South African and Brazil variants known as E484K, which can help the virus evade antibodies.

The South African variant is thought to make vaccines about 30 per cent less effective at stopping infections, but it’s not clear what effect it has on severe illness.  

Professor Sharon Peacock, of PHE, claimed there was ‘limited’ evidence of E484Q’s effect on immunity and vaccines. Lab studies have suggested it may be able to escape some antibodies, but to what degree remains uncertain.

How deadly is it? Scientists still don’t know for sure. But they are fairly certain it won’t be more deadly than the current variants in circulation in Britain.  

This is because there is no evolutionary benefit to Covid becoming more deadly. The virus’s sole goal is to spread as much as it can, so it needs people to be alive and mix with others for as long as possible to achieve this. 

And, if other variants are anything to go by, the Indian strain should not be more lethal.

There is still no conclusive evidence to show dominant versions like the Kent and South African variants are more deadly than the original Covid strain – even though they are highly transmissible. 

Doctors in India claim there has been a sudden spike in Covid admissions among people under 45, who have traditionally been less vulnerable to the disease.

There have been anecdotal reports from medics that young people make up two third of new patients in Delhi. In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year.

There is still no proof younger people are more badly affected by the new strain. 

Should we be worried? Scientists are unsure exactly how transmissible or vaccine-resistant the Indian variant is because it hasn’t been studied thoroughly.

The fact it appears to have increased infectivity should not pose an immediate threat to the UK’s situation because the current dominant Kent version appears equally or more transmissible. 

It will take a variant far more infectious strain than that to knock it off the top spot.

However, if the Indian version proves to be effective at slipping past vaccine-gained immunity, then its prevalence could rise in Britain as the immunisation programme squashes the Kent variant. 

The UK currently classes the Indian strain as a ‘Variant Under Investigation’, a tier below the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants. But there are calls to move it up to the highest category.

Scientists tracking the constantly-evolving virus say it’s still not clear if India’s third wave has been caused by the variant, or if it emerged at the same time by coincidence.  

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It has 13 mutations including two in the virus’ spike protein known as E494Q and L452R.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday 55 cases of the Indian variant were found in the UK in the week to April 14. PHE experts are currently unsure whether any of the mutations mean the variant can be transmitted more easily, is more deadly or can evade the effectiveness of vaccines or natural immunity.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to India on Monday as the country struggles to cope with a dramatic surge in cases.  

It comes after MailOnline revealed that India’s troublesome variant, which has plunged the subcontinent into chaos and lockdown, has been spotted more than 200 times in Britain – doubling since Matt Hancock told MPs there were 100 detected cases on Monday.

Four carriers asked the west London airport to allow a total of eight extra flights to arrive before the Friday deadline as families desperately try to avoid having to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. 

Heathrow said it turned down the requests because of concerns about queues at the border. It is understood that it did not want to exacerbate existing pressures by allowing more passengers in. 

A maximum of 20 of the 40 passport control desks at Heathrow Terminal 2 are currently being manned because of social distancing, MailOnline understands. Staff are also in small bubbles because of coronavirus, preventing groups being deployed when the border becomes busy. 

The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that it also received applications for charter flight permits from India to the UK – but these had been declined or withdrawn as they did not meet the qualifying criteria.  

Sixteen direct flights – which carried about 300 passengers each before carriers lines brought in social distancing – were scheduled to land in the UK this week ahead of the travel ban. 

Online travel agent Skyscanner said searches for flights to Britain from India have increased by more than 250 per cent this week, while travel agents say that a standard £400 economy ticket has soared to £2,000 due to a shortage of seats on planes. 

Most Britons trying to return are in India on emergency visas for family funerals or weddings or on business, Indra Travel chairman Suresh Kumar said. Universities warned that the travel ban has left 10,000 international students scrambling to return to UK campuses before tomorrow.

Yesterday India reported nearly 315,000 new cases after premier Narendra Modi thundered that the country was being overwhelmed by a coronavirus ‘storm’. However, its death toll could be 10 times higher than officially reported, according to analysis of the numbers being burned in crematoriums.

Though the Indian government has imposed a week-long shutdown, authorities have struggled to contain the new variant sweeping the subcontinent. Feats about the mutation prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel a visit to the country to meet his counterpart this week. 

Scientists think B.1.617 spreads easier than older strains and has mutations which help it evade vaccines – but to what degree remains unclear. Doctors in India claim there has been a sudden spike in admissions among people under 45, who have traditionally been less vulnerable to the disease. 

Hospital staff across India have been warning they will run out of oxygen as the health system collapses around them amid a surge in cases which has seen India register a record 2,023 deaths in one day. 

Health experts said India let its guard down during the winter by allowing big gatherings such as weddings and festivals to proceed. 

The Indian premier is also facing criticism for addressing packed political rallies for local elections and allowing a religious festival to go ahead where millions gathered. 

Though some scientists believe the variant is no deadlier than other variants circulating in Britain, SAGE adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport said India’s addition to the red list may have come too late. The former Chief Scientific Adviser added there were ‘good reasons’ for keeping it out of Britain. 

A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are in a global health pandemic – people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary. Every essential check helps avoid the risk of importing dangerous variants of coronavirus which could put our vaccine rollout at risk.’ 

Travellers are seeking to fly back to Britain before the enforced quarantine comes into effect, with currently 30 flights a week operating between the two nations as the new variant wreaks havoc. 

The countries on the UK’s red list where visitors must go into quarantine hotels

  • Angola
  • Argentina
  • Bangladesh
  • Bolivia
  • Botswana
  • Brazil
  • Burundi
  • Cape Verde
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ecuador
  • Eswatini
  • Ethiopia
  • French Guiana
  • Guyana 
  • India 
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Qatar
  • Rwanda
  • Seychelles
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • Suriname
  • Tanzania
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

 

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Earlier this week the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that India would be added to the red list because of rising cases and a new variant.

Since then, online travel agent Skyscanner said searches for flights returning to the UK from India had increased by more than 250 per cent. 

Travel agents say that a standard £400 economy ticket from India to the UK has soared to £2,000 due to a shortage of seats on planes over the next three days. 

Suresh Kumar, chairman of Indra Travel, told The Telegraph most Britons trying to return are in India on emergency visas for family funerals or weddings or on business, as well as students. 

Universities warned that the travel ban would leave 10,000 international students scrambling to return to UK campuses before Friday.

Vivienne Stern from Universities UK told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the current capacity of quarantine hotels cannot hold all the students expected to return to the country.

She said the Government had not yet made it clear if more hotels would be allowed to open rooms for them. Applications from India next year are up 25 per cent and universities are worried quarantining could put off current students.

When the new rules come into effect, anyone arriving in England or Scotland from India will need to stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days and follow a strict coronavirus testing regime at their own expense. There are currently no direct international flights from India into Wales or Northern Ireland.

In England, a stay in one of the hotels costs £1,750 per passenger travelling alone – including transport, tests, food and accommodation. 

Every additional adult, or child over 12, must pay £650, while children aged five to 12 pay £325.

According to SAGE scientist Sir Mark, the decision to put India on the red list may have come ‘too late’. He told BBC Breakfast yesterday: ‘These decisions are almost inevitably taken a bit too late in truth, but what’s absolutely clear is that this variant is more transmissible in India.’

He added he believed it was becoming the ‘dominant variant’ in India, while there were also concerns it could be more effective at escaping a natural or vaccine-induced immune response, ‘so there’s good reasons for wanting to keep it out of the country if at all possible’.

MailOnline understands the long delays are being caused by a perfect storm of problems with the Home Office accused of using a ‘rigid and inflexible’ bubble system for staff meaning those not on the rota for passport control cannot be moved in to ease pressure at peak times, despite social distancing and regular sanitising.

Huge queues are being made worse because electronic-gates cannot be used because the Government is yet to fully digitise the ‘passenger locator forms’, which travellers must fill in before heading to the UK.

Unions claim Heathrow could use all passport control desks if they had installed screens surrounding each booth, rather than the front-facing ones they chose. But they also blame passengers for failing to fill in the right forms with birder staff they are seeing large numbers of people using fake covid test certificates that are not properly checked by airlines.

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, said: ‘The Government should put more pressure on airlines to make sure that all the documents are there and correct before people fly. Why are these people boarding without the carrier making sure they have the documentation they need? It would not solve it, but it would make the queues shorter’. 

The most up-to-date data from the Government’s official coronavirus variant tracking programme shows 103 infected people have had the mutant strain.

But separate figures published by the same group of experts show the B.1.617 variant has actually been spotted 215 times – with it making up around one in every 200 positive swabs that are analysed.  

Scientists said it was a ‘very troubling’ number and that it was proof the variant was spreading, with 85 per cent of samples detected in the past month.

However, health chiefs say some of the cases will be duplicates because the majority are linked to foreign travel. Everyone flying in to England from India – and anywhere abroad – currently has to take two Covid tests while quarantining at home for 10 days. British experts are currently managing to sequence the majority of positive tests because cases are so low. 

A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) collects a nasal swab sample from a man for a Covid-19 rapid antigen testing along the street in New Delhi

A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) collects a nasal swab sample from a man for a Covid-19 rapid antigen testing along the street in New Delhi

A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) collects a nasal swab sample from a man for a Covid-19 rapid antigen testing along the street in New Delhi

India is currently battling a second wave of cases, but the numbers per capita are nowhere near levels seen during the UK's winter peak

India is currently battling a second wave of cases, but the numbers per capita are nowhere near levels seen during the UK's winter peak

India is currently battling a second wave of cases, but the numbers per capita are nowhere near levels seen during the UK’s winter peak

The UK's hugely successful vaccination programme and brutal four-month lockdown has squashed deaths to double-digits. But India's fatalities have started to climb on the back of a spike in infections

The UK's hugely successful vaccination programme and brutal four-month lockdown has squashed deaths to double-digits. But India's fatalities have started to climb on the back of a spike in infections

 The UK’s hugely successful vaccination programme and brutal four-month lockdown has squashed deaths to double-digits. But India’s fatalities have started to climb on the back of a spike in infections

The Covid variants circulating in the UK

The Covid variants circulating in the UK

The Covid variants circulating in the UK

A health worker collects a swab from a policeman in Bhopal, the capital city of India's Madhya Pradesh state

A health worker collects a swab from a policeman in Bhopal, the capital city of India's Madhya Pradesh state

A health worker collects a swab from a policeman in Bhopal, the capital city of India’s Madhya Pradesh state

Health workers rest in between cremating virus victims in Delhi amid the huge surge in infections and deaths

Health workers rest in between cremating virus victims in Delhi amid the huge surge in infections and deaths

Health workers rest in between cremating virus victims in Delhi amid the huge surge in infections and deaths

An elderly woman waits to receive a vaccine in Delhi where hospitals are running perilously low on oxygen

An elderly woman waits to receive a vaccine in Delhi where hospitals are running perilously low on oxygen

An elderly woman waits to receive a vaccine in Delhi where hospitals are running perilously low on oxygen

Burning pyres of patients who died of Covid-19 at a crematorium in Delhi over the weekend. The city of 29 million people has fewer than 100 beds with ventilators, and fewer than 150 beds available for patients needing critical care

Burning pyres of patients who died of Covid-19 at a crematorium in Delhi over the weekend. The city of 29 million people has fewer than 100 beds with ventilators, and fewer than 150 beds available for patients needing critical care

Burning pyres of patients who died of Covid-19 at a crematorium in Delhi over the weekend. The city of 29 million people has fewer than 100 beds with ventilators, and fewer than 150 beds available for patients needing critical care

Relatives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk amid burning funeral pyres as they perform last rites for covid-19 victims in Bhopal

Relatives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk amid burning funeral pyres as they perform last rites for covid-19 victims in Bhopal

Relatives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk amid burning funeral pyres as they perform last rites for covid-19 victims in Bhopal

Fewer than 900 people in England are now getting ill with Covid every day 

Fewer than 900 people in England are now catching coronavirus every day, according to a symptom-tracking app, the lowest level ever and below estimates for August when there were next to no restrictions.

King’s College London scientists estimated only 870 people suffered a symptomatic infection with the virus every day last week, based on reports from more than a million Britons.

This was the lowest number since estimates began in June, and below the previous low point in mid-August before the burdensome ‘rule of six’ and a flurry of other restrictions came into force.

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads the app, said the dropping cases signalled troublesome variants had not gained a foothold, which was likely down to the successful vaccination programme – already jabbed three in five Britons – social distancing, and warmer weather allowing people to spend more time outdoors.

And in yet more promising statistics published today, Test and Trace found Covid cases fell by nine per cent in the seven days to April 14, yet another sign Britain’s outbreak is still shrinking.

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to speed-up his roadmap out of lockdown, after promising to be led by ‘data not dates’ when relaxing tight lockdown restrictions.

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The development comes after other scientists and senior Labour politicians slammed the Government for allowing thousands of travellers from India to pour into the UK every week despite knowing about the variant for nearly a month.

No10 only announced India was being added to the UK’s travel red list yesterday, and the measures don’t start until 4am on Friday. At least 5,000 of people are due to arrive in Britain from India before the travel restrictions come into effect, as a desperate scramble to beat the quarantine deadline ensues. 

Amid growing numbers of the variant at home and the spiralling epidemic in India, the Prime Minister has had to cancel a scheduled visit to Delhi next week.

Reacting to the new Indian variant cases, Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist from the University of East Anglia, added: ‘It does look like this is growing rather more quickly than it should be while we’re in this sort of lockdown. 

‘It is still a little bit early to know what’s really going on with this variant, but the signs are not looking good.’

The data, published by the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, shows the Indian variant has been spotted in every part of the UK except Northern Ireland – with 198 samples in England, 10 in Scotland and seven in Wales.

Professor Hunter said it was ‘almost certain’ that there are more cases of the Indian variant because it can take two or three weeks for sequences to be analysed and published. 

There have been anecdotal reports from medics that young people make up two third of new patients in Delhi. In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year. 

There is still no proof younger people are more badly affected by the new strain. 

As Britons scramble to get back to the UK, travellers have complained of two-hour queues at border control at Heathrow Airport, where five flights from India are due to arrive today.

Labour slammed the Government for not banning arrivals immediately despite the Indian variant being under investigation by UK officials for almost three weeks. Sir Patrick Vallance’s predecessor admitted ministers were too slow to respond to the new B.1.617 strain claiming the ban was ‘taken a bit too late in truth’. 

The ZOE Covid Symptom study app estimated 870 people in England were suffering a symptomatic infection with the virus every day last week. This is down to the same levels as in August, before the burdensome rule of six came into force

The ZOE Covid Symptom study app estimated 870 people in England were suffering a symptomatic infection with the virus every day last week. This is down to the same levels as in August, before the burdensome rule of six came into force

The ZOE Covid Symptom study app estimated 870 people in England were suffering a symptomatic infection with the virus every day last week. This is down to the same levels as in August, before the burdensome rule of six came into force

The PM is facing growing calls to ease lockdown quicker after the number of deaths continues to fall and the jab drive hit the milestone of fully vaccinating 10million Brits. A total of 33m have had at least one injection.

Fewer than 900 people in England are now getting ill with Covid every day 

Fewer than 900 people in England are now catching coronavirus every day, according to a symptom-tracking app, the lowest level ever and below estimates for August when there were next to no restrictions.

King’s College London scientists estimated only 870 people suffered a symptomatic infection with the virus every day last week, based on reports from more than a million Britons.

This was the lowest number since estimates began in June, and below the previous low point in mid-August before the burdensome ‘rule of six’ and a flurry of other restrictions came into force.

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist who leads the app, said the dropping cases signalled troublesome variants had not gained a foothold, which was likely down to the successful vaccination programme – already jabbed three in five Britons – social distancing, and warmer weather allowing people to spend more time outdoors.

And in yet more promising statistics published today, Test and Trace found Covid cases fell by nine per cent in the seven days to April 14, yet another sign Britain’s outbreak is still shrinking.

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to speed-up his roadmap out of lockdown, after promising to be led by ‘data not dates’ when relaxing tight lockdown restrictions.

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The Indian variant was first identified internationally in October and detected in the UK on February 22. Two key mutations set it apart from others – named E484Q and L452R – with both of them found on the ‘spike’ that the virus uses to latch onto human cells.

These are not thought to be key mutations of any of the other variants on Public Health England’s list, but have appeared in virus samples before.

Those alterations are thought to make the virus more transmissible, and lab studies suggest it can escape antibodies – a key part of the body’s Covid immune response. But because the E484Q mutation is rare, scientists aren’t sure to what degree it will change the way the virus behaves. 

Meanwhile, it emerged today that around 100 people are trying to enter the country each day with a ‘fake Covid certificate.

The fake documents claiming a traveller has a recent negative test result are ‘very easy’ to forge, MPs on a cross party committee on Covid were told. And there is no way to tell how many more are being missed.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents border immigration and customs staff in the UK, also said there is ‘little to no’ evidence on how well people are adhering to quarantine rules. 

Ministers want Heathrow to dedicate a terminal to passengers arriving from red list countries amid fears the airport has become a Covid ‘breeding ground’.

The Home Office is keen for Terminal 4 – which has been shut since last year – to process travellers from coronavirus hotspots with troublesome virus variants.

Officials are bracing for a huge influx of red list arrivals after India was added due to the emergence of a new variant and spiking infections in the country.

Up to 5,000 passengers are expected to fly back to the UK over the next 48 hours as part of the rush to beat Friday’s 4am deadline, after which British nationals arriving from India will need to isolate in a quarantine hotel at their own expense.

No10 wants Heathrow to prevent red list arrivals from mixing with passengers from low risk countries, with travellers complaining of queues of up to six hours with little social distancing.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 passengers are pouring into the airport each day, with up to 1,000 thought to be from countries already on the red list.

Heathrow shut terminals 3 and 4 – primarily for long-haul and European travel – last May during the first national lockdown, with all flights being redirected to terminals 2 and 5. It has led to thousands of passengers from high and low risk countries being funneled into the same arrival and departure lounges.

Rules at border control also mean every passenger has to show forms proving which country they’ve come from and their reasons for visiting the UK.

Ms Moreton said it had led to arrivals from red, amber and green countries mixing in a confined space for hours. Asked if this meant it was a breeding ground for infection, Ms Moreton told MPs: ‘Yes, very much so.

‘When it’s so slow and the queues are so bad, then absolutely it’s a significant risk to the border force staff that are doing it, and to the travellers that are standing in those queues.’

E-gates are still shut and every form needs to be checked by hand, which has slowed the rate at which staff can process passengers.

It comes as India grapples a troublesome new variant, with an oxygen tank leaking outside a hospital on Wednesday and killing 22 critically ill patients after their supply was shut off.

An oxygen tanker leaked outside an Indian hospital, killing 22 Covid-19 critically ill patients after their supply was shut off. Pictured: Firefighters arrive on the scene wearing protective gear

An oxygen tanker leaked outside an Indian hospital, killing 22 Covid-19 critically ill patients after their supply was shut off. Pictured: Firefighters arrive on the scene wearing protective gear

An oxygen tanker leaked outside an Indian hospital, killing 22 Covid-19 critically ill patients after their supply was shut off. Pictured: Firefighters arrive on the scene wearing protective gear

Officers were seen thrashing locals with sticks and forcing them to perform sit-ups and press-ups in the street in Chattarpur

Officers were seen thrashing locals with sticks and forcing them to perform sit-ups and press-ups in the street in Chattarpur

Officers were seen thrashing locals with sticks and forcing them to perform sit-ups and press-ups in the street in Chattarpur

Relatives wearing PPE attend the funeral of a man who died from Covid disease at a crematorium in New Delhi

Relatives wearing PPE attend the funeral of a man who died from Covid disease at a crematorium in New Delhi

Relatives wearing PPE attend the funeral of a man who died from Covid disease at a crematorium in New Delhi

All of the victims were on ventilators and in need of constant oxygen supply at the Zakir Hussain Hospital’s Covid ward in the western city of Nashik when the supply was disrupted for around 30 minutes.

Hospital staff across the country have been warning they will run out of oxygen as the health system collapses around them amid a surge in cases which has seen India register a record 2,023 deaths in one day.

It comes as the country’s police were caught humiliating Covid rule-breakers with draconian physical punishments.

Officers were seen thrashing locals with sticks and forcing them to perform sit-ups and press-ups in the street in Chattarpur as authorities struggled to contain the deadly new variant which appears to be affecting younger people.

India has been in the grips of a second wave of infections blamed on lax government rules and the new ‘double mutant’ B.1.617 strain, adding almost 3.5million new cases this month alone.

As the oxygen tanker leaked at the Zakir Hussain hospital, which is a dedicated Covid-19 medical facility, panic ensued among the patients, their families and staff.

Video footage from outside of the hospital shows the gas leaking from the tanker and dense white clouds covered the area. The fire service arrived at the scene and sprayed water to control the leak.

‘As per current information, 22 people have died due to the interrupted supply of oxygen at the Zakir Hussain municipal hospital,’ district collector Suraj Mandhare told NDTV.

India’s Covid death toll could be TEN TIMES higher, with crematoriums ‘burning far more victims that reports show’ – as country records global record 314,835 cases in a day

India‘s Covid death toll could be ten times higher than is being officially reported, according to analysis of the numbers being burned in crematoriums.

Another 314,835 infections were reported on Thursday, the world record for a daily cases figure, while the health ministry said there were 2,074 fatalities.

India’s health infrastructure has been brought to its knees by a second wave which is three times higher than the first, with medics pointing to a new variant believed to be more infectious. 

At the start of the year, India thought it had beaten the pandemic and had kicked off a mass vaccination drive. Face masks and social distancing were cast aside and huge crowds flocked to religious festivals, election rallies and cricket matches.

But now cities are on lockdown again, anti-viral drugs like redesivir are being sold on a flourishing black market and oxygen cylinders are being looted, with tankers given armed escorts to transport supplies.

While India’s infections have risen higher than any other country in the world, their deaths have remained conspicuously low.

Local news reports from the states of Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar reveal that while at least 1,833 people died of coronavirus recently, based on the number of cremations, just 228 have been officially tallied.

Funeral pyres for Covid patients burn at a park converted into a crematorium in Delhi on Wednesday

Funeral pyres for Covid patients burn at a park converted into a crematorium in Delhi on Wednesday

Funeral pyres for Covid patients burn at a park converted into a crematorium in Delhi on Wednesday

Another 314,835 infections were reported on Thursday, the world record for a daily cases figure

Another 314,835 infections were reported on Thursday, the world record for a daily cases figure

Another 314,835 infections were reported on Thursday, the world record for a daily cases figure

The health ministry said there were 2,074 fatalities on Thursday, a new record for the country, but believed to be vastly under-reported

The health ministry said there were 2,074 fatalities on Thursday, a new record for the country, but believed to be vastly under-reported

The health ministry said there were 2,074 fatalities on Thursday, a new record for the country, but believed to be vastly under-reported

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bangalore on Wednesday

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bangalore on Wednesday

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bangalore on Wednesday

This analysis, by the Financial Times, revealed that in the Jamnagar province of Gujarat, 100 Covid victims had burned on funeral pyres – but just one coronavirus death was recorded officially. 

Delhi, a city of 29 million, has less than 100 beds available for patients requiring ventilators and fewer than 150 for those in need of intensive care.

Major private and government-run hospitals in the capital have sent out urgent appeals to the central government, calling for immediate supply of oxygen for hundreds of patients on ventilator support.

On Wednesday, nearly 500 tonnes of oxygen was supplied to Delhi but this fell short of the required 700 tonnes per day. 

Similar chaos is unfolding across the country, with desperate people taking to social media to beg for beds, oxygen or medication. 

In the eastern city of Patna, Pranay Punj described how he ran frantically from one pharmacy to another in search of the antiviral medication remdesivir for his seriously ill mother.

He finally located a pharmacist who said the drug could only be found on the black market, and offered to source it for an eye-watering 100,000 rupees (£1,000), more than 30 times its usual price.

He instead got the medicine from a relative whose wife had just died of the virus, but later that night received a call from the hospital informing him they were out of oxygen.  

‘Several hours later, we managed to procure one bed at (a) very high price in a private hospital and moved her there,’ he said. 

Despite India’s status as the ‘pharmacy of the world’, the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir and favipiravir.

In the northern city of Lucknow, Ahmed Abbas was charged 45,000 rupees for a 46-litre oxygen cylinder, nine times its normal price.

‘They asked me to pay in advance and pick it (up) from them the next day,’ the 34-year-old said.

The crisis has added to criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, already under fire for allowing huge religious gatherings and addressing crowded political rallies himself.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal last weekend hit out at ‘doctors giving patients unnecessary oxygen’. 

Relatives and family members carry the dead body of a Covid-19 victim for a cremation at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium, on the banks of the Yamuna river in New Delhi in the early hour of Thursday

Relatives and family members carry the dead body of a Covid-19 victim for a cremation at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium, on the banks of the Yamuna river in New Delhi in the early hour of Thursday

Relatives and family members carry the dead body of a Covid-19 victim for a cremation at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium, on the banks of the Yamuna river in New Delhi in the early hour of Thursday

A crematorium worker checks a burning pyre of a Covid-19 victim at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium

A crematorium worker checks a burning pyre of a Covid-19 victim at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium

A crematorium worker checks a burning pyre of a Covid-19 victim at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium

Multiple funeral pyres of those patients who died of COVID-19 disease are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium

Multiple funeral pyres of those patients who died of COVID-19 disease are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium

Multiple funeral pyres of those patients who died of COVID-19 disease are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium

Funeral pyres at a makeshift crematorium in the capital Delhi on Wednesday, the city of 29 millions is rapidly running out of hospital beds for patients, oxygen supplies and even basic medication

Funeral pyres at a makeshift crematorium in the capital Delhi on Wednesday, the city of 29 millions is rapidly running out of hospital beds for patients, oxygen supplies and even basic medication

Funeral pyres at a makeshift crematorium in the capital Delhi on Wednesday, the city of 29 millions is rapidly running out of hospital beds for patients, oxygen supplies and even basic medication

A body shrouded in a white sheet lies on a gurney as funeral pyres burn in Delhi on Wednesday

A body shrouded in a white sheet lies on a gurney as funeral pyres burn in Delhi on Wednesday

A body shrouded in a white sheet lies on a gurney as funeral pyres burn in Delhi on Wednesday 

‘Patients should only be given as much oxygen as they need,’ Goyal told reporters.

Delhi is now planning to import 50,000 tonnes of oxygen and has set up a special train service called the ‘Oxygen Express’ to transport cylinders to hard-hit states.

Modi said in an address to the nation on Tuesday night that ‘all efforts are being made’ to boost supplies.

‘One solution to this crisis was to create a stockpile of antiviral drugs when cases were low, but that did not happen,’ said Raman Gaikwad, an infectious diseases specialist at Sahyadri Hospital in the western city of Pune.

Instead, remdesivir manufacturers told the Indian Express this week that government officials had ordered them to cease production in January because of a fall in infections. 

With requests for beds and supplies reaching fever pitch on social media platforms, a network of activists and influencers has sprung into action to help those in trouble.

Climate activist Disha Ravi and YouTuber Kusha Kapila are among the dozens of young Indians who have sourced, compiled and shared information detailing the real-time availability of hospital beds, local helplines, pharmacy numbers and even food delivery services.

Content creator Srishti Dixit, 28, said she received a new request for help every 30 seconds, creating a huge backlog.

Unpaid, she works late into the night, editing and verifying details of where to get what and amplifying requests for help.

But the lists she shares with her 684,000 Instagram followers becomes obsolete almost immediately as beds fill up and pharmacies sell out.

‘I am not always successful, I am sure there are lapses… but hopefully it is helping people at least on an individual level’, she said.

With cases rising at a record pace, India’s government is leaving its healthcare workers and anxious citizens to pick up the pieces.

‘My friend is desperate… we have been trying for all the government helplines but none of them are responding (and) most of the oxygen suppliers have switched off their phones’, said Zain Zaidi, sales manager at a Lucknow hotel.

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bangalore on Thursday

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bangalore on Thursday

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bangalore on Thursday

A man waits to refill an oxygen cylinder at a store in Delhi. Suppliers have been given armed escorts to help move supplies amid reports of oxygen looting

A man waits to refill an oxygen cylinder at a store in Delhi. Suppliers have been given armed escorts to help move supplies amid reports of oxygen looting

A man waits to refill an oxygen cylinder at a store in Delhi. Suppliers have been given armed escorts to help move supplies amid reports of oxygen looting

‘I just managed to find one supplier but he is charging 20,000 rupees. I have to buy it at any cost’, the 34-year-old told AFP in a panicked voice, disconnecting the call. 

States across India have imposed restrictions, with Delhi in a week-long lockdown, all non-essential shops shut in Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh set for a weekend shutdown.

The United States now advises against travelling to India, even for those fully vaccinated, while Britain has added India to its ‘red list’. Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned flights.

India’s inoculation programme has also hit supply hurdles, prompting New Delhi to put the brakes on exports of the AstraZeneca shot, which is manufactured locally by the Serum Institute.

India has administered more than 130 million shots so far and from May 1 all adults will be eligible for a jab.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT? 

Real name: B.1.617

When and where was it discovered? The variant was first reported as being of concern by the Indian government in late March. 

The first cases in India appear to date back to October 2020 and it was first detected in Britain in February. 

It has been detected in 21 countries as of April 19, according to Public Health England’s Sharon Peacock.

How many people in the UK have been infected with it? Matt Hancock revealed there had been 103 cases so far.

But Public Health England’s latest report, published on April 15, says 77. These were detected in England and Scotland.

What mutations does it have? It has 13 mutations that separate it from the original Covid virus that emerged in China – but the two main ones are named E484Q and L452R.

Scientists suspect these two alterations can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants. 

Is it more infectious and can it evade vaccines? 

The L452R mutation is also found on the Californian variant (B.1.429), discovered in December, even though the two evolved independently.

L452R is believed to make the American strain about 20 per cent more infectious. 

The Indian variant’s E484Q mutation is very similar to the one found in the South African and Brazil variants known as E484K, which can help the virus evade antibodies.

The South African variant is thought to make vaccines about 30 per cent less effective at stopping infections, but it’s not clear what effect it has on severe illness.  

Professor Peacock said there was ‘limited’ evidence of E484Q’s effect on immunity and vaccines. 

Lab studies have suggested it may be able to escape some antibodies, but to what degree remains uncertain.

Should we be worried?

Scientists are unsure how transmissible or vaccine-resistant the Indian variant is because the E484Q mutation is new and not well understood.

The fact it appears to have increased infectivity should not pose an immediate threat to the UK’s situation, because the current dominant Kent version appears equally or more transmissible. 

It will take a variant far more infectious strain than that to knock it off the top spot.

However, if the Indian version proves to be effective at slipping past vaccine-gained immunity, then its prevalence could rise in Britain as the immunisation programme squashes the Kent variant. 

The UK currently classes the Indian strain as a ‘Variant Under Investigation’, a tier below the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants. 

Experts studying Britain’s Covid variants said the Indian variant was unlikely to ever take off in the UK because its mutations were ‘not top tier’.

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said it’s still not clear if India’s third wave has been caused by the new variant, or if it emerged at the same time by coincidence. 

His comments have been echoed by PHE’s Professor Peacock, who said today: ”It is not clear at the present time whether B.1.617 is the main driver for the current wave.

‘The question is whether this is associated with the variant, with human behaviour (for example, the presence of large gatherings, and/or lack of preventive measures including hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing) or whether both are contributing.’

How deadly is it?

Again, scientists still don’t know for sure – but they are fairly certain it won’t be more deadly than the current variants in circulation in Britain.  

This is because there is no evolutionary benefit to Covid becoming more deadly. 

The virus’s sole goal is to spread as much as it can, so it needs people to be alive and interacting with others for as long as possible to achieve this. 

And, if other variants are anything to go by, the Indian strain should not be more lethal.

There is still no evidence to show dominant versions like the Kent and South African variants are more deadly than the original Covid strain – even though they are highly transmissible.  

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