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India's COVID-19 Outbreak Is Slowing Down

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

And as the United States tries to goad to be - people to get vaccinated, holding lotteries and prizes and incentives like free beer, the fact is most of the rest of the world is in a much different place. Few countries demonstrate that disparity more than India, home to the worst outbreak so far of COVID-19. But there are recent signs that it is easing.

Lauren Frayer joins us now from Mumbai. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi there.

DETROW: What are scientists saying?

FRAYER: Well, today, the government confirmed 80,000 new infections. That sounds like a lot, but it's actually a fifth of what India was seeing at its peak last month. So scientists and the government are cautiously optimistic that this outbreak here is easing. But, you know, deaths are still really high.

We had 3,300 deaths confirmed today. There was one day this past week that India logged the deadliest day of the pandemic so far anywhere in the world with more than 6,100 deaths. A lot of those are poor rural areas that are revising up their numbers only now, sort of finding people who've died who - that weren't previously accounted for. You know, their deaths weren't counted as COVID deaths. So there's still a lot of tragedy here. But the strain on the health system has eased in Delhi and Mumbai and a lot of other big cities.

You know, just weeks ago, like, you literally could not get an ambulance. People were dying in hospital parking lots, unable to get care. And that appears to have eased now. And there are, you know, ICU beds available for those who need them. The rural picture, though, is less clear, areas where folks didn't have great access to health care to begin with. And those areas may have been worst-hit by this.

DETROW: What have the vaccination rates been in India lately? I mean, we've talked so much about even though so much is made there, it's - the vaccination drives have been challenging.

FRAYER: Yeah. I mean, this is really the challenge going forward. So India has nearly 1.4 billion people. Less than 4% of them are fully vaccinated, have received two shots. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi has really come under criticism for this, that his government didn't preorder enough vaccine doses, kept changing policy between, you know, state and federal control over the vaccine campaign, kept changing the fee structure. To get a vaccine in India, you've got to make an appointment through this, like, really buggy government app that just keeps crashing.

The prime minister gave a speech this week. It was actually his first televised address to the nation since mid-April when all of this got really, really bad. And he announced that all shots now will be free to adults. He also pushed back at a lot of criticism, saying India's actually vaccinating people faster than many more developed countries. That's actually true in terms of real numbers. India has administered more than 250 million shots, like, way more than, you know, the population of a lot of countries.

DETROW: Yeah.

FRAYER: But most of those are first doses, and the vaccines used here require two. And so, yeah, less than 4% of people are fully vaccinated. And the worry is that just isn't - doesn't give much protection for when the next wave of this pandemic hits.

DETROW: So we've got a little less than 30 seconds here. But quickly, if vaccinations are not scaling up, how else do you account for the fact that things start to be slowing a little?

FRAYER: Well, I mean, lockdowns have worked here.

DETROW: OK.

FRAYER: So the - it's been very, very strict. I mean, only this week was I allowed to go out of my house for four hours a morning. But we were basically locked in our homes for all of April and May. Last evening...

DETROW: A much stricter lockdown than we've had in the United States. Lauren Frayer joining us from Mumbai, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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