(Zerohedge) – India’s surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, potentially driven by a convergence of nasty mutant strains, has in the pace of barely a week eclipsed Brazil to account for roughly half of all new COVID-19 cases being reported worldwide, with large numbers likely going uncounted. After being blamed for helping spark the outbreak with large-scale political rallies during an election year, Indian PM Narendra Modi has ordered western social media firms to censor critical posts from rival politicians while hundreds die due to lack of hospital oxygen, including a group of more than 20 victims in western Maharashtra who died due to a preventable oxygen leak.

As of Monday morning, India’s outbreak showed no signs of abating. The number of confirmed cases has surged to 17,313,163, the second-largest tally in the world after the 32M+ in the US (though experts caution millions more cases have likely gone undiagnosed). On Monday, India reported more than 354K new cases over the past 24 hours, marking the latest in a six-day series of global records for most cases reported in a single day.

Meanwhile, India has reported more than 2K deaths per day for the last 5 days, with a record 2,812 deaths reported Monday, bringing total deaths to 195,123, the fourth-highest official total in the world after the US, Brazil and Mexico.

Health experts warn about the pernicious rise of mutant strains in the country as strains first isolated in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have all been identified in India. These strains are all believed to be more infectious than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Hospitals in the Indian Capital of New Delhi have been turning away patients due to a lack of oxygen supplies and open beds. Families lucky enough to score a bed for a sick relative often must then find their own supplies of oxygen or medications like remdesivir that are in short supply at hospitals.

Despite its prestigious Serum Institute’s critical role in the global vaccine rollout, Indians have secured precious few doses of the vaccine as PM Modi’s government initially favored exports over domestic distribution. On Monday morning, as India prepares to expand legal access to any adult over 18, the FT reported that Modi’s government is facing a backlash over its vaccine framework, which will require states to purchase jabs directly from domestic manufacturers. Meanwhile, India’s vaccination campaign has slowed, with the number of jabs falling to fewer than 3M per day, down from more than 4M.

India will expand its vaccination programme to anyone aged over 18 on Saturday but vaccine manufacturers have been given permission to raise prices significantly.

India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. But, after limited uptake in the early weeks of its inoculation campaign, demand has surged and the country is facing shortages. The pace of vaccination has slowed from as many as 4m jabs a day this month to fewer than 3m.

From May 1, the government will continue buying half of India’s monthly vaccine production of about 65m jabs to supply to over-45s. But states and private entities have to procure shots for younger adults at higher prices set by the manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.

Experts warn that breaking with the centralised Covid-19 vaccine campaigns used elsewhere gives the companies too much power, risks setting off chaotic competition and exacerbating inequities as many citizens are unable to secure vaccines.

‘In a pandemic vaccines are a public good…Public goods should be paid through pooled resources by the government. That’s what’s happening around the world,’ said Chandrakant Lahariya, a public health policy expert in New Delhi.

‘By giving a free hand to manufacturers to determine the price…It’s a situation which puts everybody at a disadvantage.’

The Serum Institute, which produces the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, said state governments would pay Rs400 ($5.35) and private hospitals Rs600, compared with about Rs150 for the central government. Bharat Biotech, which makes an indigenous jab, will charge Rs600 for states and Rs1,200 for private buyers.

The Serum Institute, which produces the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, said state governments would pay Rs400 ($5.35) and private hospitals Rs600, compared with about Rs150 for the central government. Bharat Biotech, which makes an indigenous jab, will charge Rs600 for states and Rs1,200 for private buyers.

At least one rival politician has written to PM Modi asking him to reconsider this new policy, arguing that vaccine campaigns in the country have seen the most success when the government is the sole buyer of vaccines.

The worsening disaster has prompted the US, UK, Germany and other EU members to pledge to provide emergency supplies including oxygen, ventilators, medical aid and raw materials for vaccine production. Germany, in particular, has classified India as a coronavirus high incidence area and also put the country on a separate warning list for coronavirus variants.

Finally, as the western media latches on to the advent of ‘double mutant’ strains in India (something we reported on weeks ago), a third mutation in the B.1.167 strain first identified in India has now been documented, leading to more calls for faster sequencing of viral genomes. Here’s more from India.com.

A report in the Indian Express said that since both the mutations, E484Q and L425R, were located in the virus’s critical spike protein – that binds it to the receptor cells in the body. The mutation should have been studied on an urgent basis, however, the genome sequencing exercise got stalled between November and January due to lack of funds, and disinterest because of the falling Covid curve.

However, now a third mutation in the B.1.167 has been identified now and experts believe that this time, it will be taken seriously.

Experts chided the Indian government for not doing enough to scout for dangerous new mutants: ‘The whole point of gene sequencing is to remain ahead of the curve, anticipate what new variants of the virus are likely to emerge, how they are likely to behave, and what can be done to contain their spread in the population. More the sequences, greater is our information about them, and more effective our response can be,’ a scientist associated with the sequencing effort reportedly said.

‘Unfortunately, India has been well behind the curve on this front. We have been reacting to the developments, instead of anticipating it,’ he added.