Fri, 07 May 2021

India's Serum Institute's Chief Says He Will Return to India

Voice of America
02 May 2021, 21:35 GMT+10

India has been pummeled by the coronavirus outbreak, with staggering numbers of daily infections. While India is home to the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, only 2% of the country's 1.3 billion people have so far been vaccinated.

The country expanded its vaccine eligibility Saturday to anyone 18 and older, but many locations reported that they did not have any vaccines.

Adar Poonawalla, Serum Institute's chief executive officer has become a target because of the vaccination gap, and many blamed the India's situation on Poonawalla.

FILE PHOTO: Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Serum Institute of India poses for a picture at the Serum... FILE - Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Serum Institute of India poses for a picture at the Serum Institute of India, Pune, India, Nov. 30, 2020.

"The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented," he told Britain's The Times in an interview Sunday. "I'm staying here an extended time because I don't want to go back to that situation," Poonawalla told the newspaper explaining the reasons why he plans to stay in Britain. "Everything falls on my shoulders, but I can't do it alone," he said. "I don't think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad."

After scathing criticism on social media Saturday, the 40-year-old billionaire posted on Twitter that he was returning to India: "Had an excellent meeting with all our partners & stakeholders in the U.K. Meanwhile, pleased to state that COVISHIELD's [an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made in India] production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days."

The New York Times reported that India's government had completed a threat assessment and announced that the Serum Institute chief would receive police protection.

On that same day Poonawalla announced on Twitter that, "As a philanthropic gesture on behalf of @SerumInstIndia, I hereby reduce the price to the states ... effective immediately." This step, he said would save state funds and "enable more vaccinations and save countless lives."

On Sunday, India's Health Ministry reported a slight dip in the number of daily cases. The ministry said there were 392,488 new infections in the previous 24 hours, down a bit from the more than 400,000 reported Saturday.

Taiwan says it has sent a container of aid to India, including much-needed oxygen supplies.

Brazil

In Brazil, thousands of people ignored their own coronavirus surge Saturday to march in the streets of Brasilia, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in support of President Jair Bolsonaro.

The South American country has recorded more than 400,000 deaths, including more than 2,600 on Saturday. It is second only to the U.S. in COVID-19 deaths. The U.S. has more than 576,600 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Bolsonaro, who opposes pandemic restrictions put in place by governors and mayors, recently said the army "could take to the street one day, to ensure... freedom to come and go." Some of Saturday's banners called for a "military intervention" and bolstering Bolsonaro's powers.

Music festival in Wuhan

Meanwhile in Wuhan, the epicenter of China's coronavirus outbreak, thousands attended a two-day Strawberry Music Festival that opened Saturday. The festival was forced to go online due to the pandemic a year ago. Although barriers were set separating the crowd and security personnel enforcing restrictions, about 11,000 people danced and sang along with their favorite bands on three stages, as some attendees wore masks while many did not, according to Reuters.

More than 152 million global COVID infections have been reported so far according to Johns Hopkins. The U.S. has 32.3 million, while India has 19.5 million and Brazil has 14.7 million.

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