A second wave of COVID-19 is overwhelming India right now. Here’s what we know. – USA TODAY

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India is being overwhelmed by a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases, with deaths keeping some crematoriums running 24 hours a day and hospitals running out of oxygen.

The country has become the first in the world to report more than 400,000 daily cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as the surge threatens global efforts to tamp down the pandemic and return to pre-COVID life.

“It’s almost like India hit a perfect storm,” said S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noting the confluence of factors that caused the spike in new cases.

Here’s what we know about India and COVID-19.

How many COVID cases does India have? How many vaccines?

India has surpassed 19 million cases of COVID-19, with more than 200,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But the pace of both new cases and deaths is accelerating: The country set another daily global case record Saturday, with more than 400,000 new cases, according to official totals experts suspect are undercounts. Less than 2 percent of the country is fully vaccinated, as well, with just under 150 million doses administered for a population of more than 1.3 billion people.

Why is India having a second wave?

New COVID-19 cases reached an all-time low in India as recently as February, prompting people to resume attending sporting, religious and social events. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, held massive political rallies, with crowds of tens of thousands of people.

Modi has also faced accusations that he’s tried to downplay the pandemic, with the government ordering Twitter to remove posts critical of the government’s response to the virus.

Environmental factors played a role, as well. Lower humidity in some parts of the country, such as New Delhi, potentially helped the virus spread faster.

And, as in some other parts of the world, the rise of a new variant has complicated efforts to fight the disease.

What to know about the COVID variant in India

The new covid variant in India is called B.1.617, and it’s distinguished by having not one but two mutations on the virus spike. Scientists are still studying how that so-called double mutant might differ in terms of transmissibility and response to vaccination.

But another variant, B.1.1.7, is also spreading in India. That variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is highly infectious. B.1.1.7 is now the dominant strain in the United States.

Can Indian Americans go to India (or vice versa)?

As of May 4, the Biden administration plans to restrict travel from the United States to India for foreign nationals because of the jump in cases.

“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the India,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Flights from India will not be banned.

India is at the highest alert level in ratings by the CDC and the U.S. State Department.

The Pew Research Center puts the Indian population in the United States at about 4.6 million people.

How can I help India?

A number of charities are working to help India in its fight against the pandemic.

UNICEF is sending supplies and emergency equipment, including PPE kits and oxygen concentrators.

The India Development and Relief Fund, which is rated four stars by charity evaluator Charity Navigator, is running a campaign to help people in India who have lost their income and are going hungry because of the pandemic.

CARE, a global humanitarian organization, is working to provide hospital services, workers and equipment to India.

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A second wave of COVID-19 is overwhelming India right now. Here’s what we know. – USA TODAY

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