On Thursday, India expanded its coronavirus vaccination to the age group 45-60 years as the country tries to deal with a sharp increase in new infections.
Public and private centers offering jabs would be open every day throughout April, even on public holidays in an “important step in exponentially expanding the nationwide vaccination,” the health ministry said.
The increase in urgency follows an increase in cases since the beginning of February – when new daily infections fell below 9,000 – to more than 72,000 on Thursday, the highest level since October.
Experts have warned that infections are increasing at a faster rate than last year, when individual cases peaked at almost 100,000 in September.
India has administered more than 65 million vaccination shots to the elderly and other vulnerable groups but at a pace that is too slow to reach the government’s ambitious goal of inoculating 300 million people by the end of July.
The state hardest hit by the virus has been Maharashtra, home to the country’s financial capital Mumbai.
At a makeshift hospital at the Bandra Kurla complex in Mumbai, the number of coronavirus patients had increased to 940 from 180 three weeks ago, director Rajesh Dere told AFP.
He said the complex, also the site of one of Mumbai’s most important vaccination centers, increased its staffing and opening hours.
“As of today, we run double shifts and can vaccinate 7,000-8,000 in a single day,” Dere added.
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Reservations for vaccinations are intended to be made via a nationwide government app, but officials at the complex said people could enter without an appointment.
“There was no hiccup. I did not register online or via the app, I just came directly to the center and got the shot, says the 61-year-old lawyer Ashok Sawant to AFP.
The capital New Delhi has also experienced an increase in cases but its zoo reopened to visitors on Thursday, more than a year after it closed its doors.
Hazia Ali, 21, who visited Delhi with her family from neighboring Uttar Pradesh, said they were worried about the virus “but life must go on”.
Housewife Swati Garg, 32, said she brought her children to the zoo because they were bored at home during the school weekend.
“There are not many places open in Delhi so we decided to come here. We wear masks and clean up so I think we are safe, says Garg to AFP.