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India adds 368K new COVID cases, 3,417 deaths

NEW DELHI — India recorded 368,147 new coronavirus cases on Monday, including 3,417 deaths, as a catastrophic surge ripples through the country.

The latest numbers came after leaders of 13 opposition parties penned a letter to urge the government to launch a free vaccination drive as well as ensure uninterrupted flow of oxygen to all hospitals.

Several hospital authorities over the weekend sought court intervention over oxygen supplies in New Delhi, where a lockdown has been extended by a week to contain the wave of infections. The New Delhi High Court said it would start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals were not delivered.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been severely criticized over the handling of the surge, which has pushed India’s already fragile and underfunded health system to the brink. Massive election rallies organized by the BJP and other parties as well as a giant Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges may have exacerbated the spread, experts said, adding that new variants could also be increasing cases.

India has confirmed 19.9 million cases of infection since the start of the pandemic, behind only the U.S., which counts more than 32.4 million. More than 218,000 people in India have died from COVID-19, according to the health ministry. Both figures are thought to be vast undercounts.

India opened its vaccination campaign to people ages 18-44 on Saturday, a mammoth task being undermined by limited supplies. India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, but even the ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is stuttering. Since January, 10% of Indians have received one dose, but only around 1.5% have received both required doses.

Colorado extends mask mandate

Colorado’s governor has extended a statewide mask mandate for another 30 days, but loosened face covering requirements for groups who are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Under Gov. Jared Polis’ new executive order, people gathering inside in groups of 10 or more are no longer required to wear masks if at least 80% of the group is vaccinated.

The order states people must show proof of vaccination, but his statement did not elaborate on what proof is considered acceptable.

Residents are still required to wear masks at schools, child care centers, public government facilities, prisons and health care centers.

About 1.9 million people in Colorado are fully vaccinated.

96% in Montana getting 2nd dose

KALISPELL, Mont. — About 96% of Montanans who have received their first COVID-19 vaccine have been returning to get their second dose, state health officials said.

Jim Murphy, administrator of the health department’s Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau, told Montana Public Radio he’s pleased that nearly all Montanans who get a first dose are following up and getting their second one.

Over 332,000 Montanans were fully immunized as of Saturday, or nearly 39% of the 865,000 people who are eligible, health officials said.

New Zealand opens 2nd travel bubble

New Zealand will open a second travel bubble this month with the tiny Cook Islands, after last month opening a travel bubble with Australia.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said if all goes well, two-way quarantine-free travel with the Cook Islands will begin on May 17.

The Cook Islands has a population of just 8,000 and relies on New Zealand tourists to power its economy.

New Zealand has stamped out the spread of the coronavirus, while the Cook Islands has yet to record a single case.

Ardern said New Zealand would supply and help administer doses of the Pfizer vaccine to people in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said the country could begin its journey of recovery as it prepared to once again welcome tourists to its shores.

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