India cases up as scientists appeal to Modi to release data

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Relief supplies from the United States in the wake of India's COVID-19 situation arrive at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi, India, Friday, April 30, 2021. (Prakash Singh/Pool via AP)

NEW DELHI – Indian scientists appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to publicly release virus data that would allow them to save lives as coronavirus cases climbed again Friday, prompting the army to open its hospitals in a desperate bid to control a massive humanitarian crisis.

With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.

India's pandemic response has been marred by insufficient data and the online appeal — signed by over 350 scientists Friday afternoon — asks government to release data about the sequencing of virus variants, testing, recovered patients and how people were responding to vaccines.

The appeal says that “granular" data on testing was inaccessible to non-government experts and some government experts too. Modeling work to predict future surges was being done by government-appointed experts with insufficient information. Similarly, scientists had failed to get information that would allow them predict how many beds, oxygen or intensive care facilities would be needed, it said.

The appeal urged the government to widen the number of organizations sequencing the virus to study its evolution, and also increase the number of samples being studied. It added that restrictions on importing scientific raw materials — to make India ‘self reliant’ is a key goal for Modi and his government — was an obstacle. “Such restrictions, at this time, only serve to impede our ability to deal with COVID-19,” it said.

Meanwhile, families continued to flood social media and messaging apps with pleas for help: oxygen, beds, medicines, intensive care units and wood for funeral pyres.

India’s army chief M.M. Naravane met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to discuss the crisis.

Naravane said the sick can approach their nearest army hospitals for help. Troops were also assisting with imported oxygen tankers and vehicles where specialized skills are required, a government statement said.