India begins biggest vaccination drive yet

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India has begun vaccinating tens of thousands of people above the age of 45 in its biggest push yet against a surging coronavirus that has hit the highest daily count since early October.

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

"Our requirement is 400 million people to be vaccinated. That is our minimum requirement, our target," the source, who did not wish to be identified, told Reuters on Thursday.

"Right now we are dealing with an emergency situation. Whatever we have, we will use it."

Anxious 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 began its inoculation program in January, focusing on health workers and then the elderly.

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 this prompted criticism that people at home were being neglected.

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

"The situation is going from bad to worse" VK Paul, the top COVID-19 adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said this week.

Data released by the health ministry on Thursday showed 72,330 new COVID-19 infections, the highest since October 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.

Despite the second wave of infections, hundreds of Hindu devotes have gathered on the banks of the river Ganges in the northern town of Haridwar to take a holy dip on the first day of a month-long Kumbh Mela, or the pitcher festival.