India's Modi visits key vaccine facilities as Covid-19 case load surges


FILE PHOTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured three of the nation's leading vaccine development and manufacturing sites on Saturday as coronavirus case counts continue to soar.

India has recorded 9.35 million COVID-19 infections, second only to the United States. It reported 41,322 new cases and 485 deaths on Saturday.

The western state of Maharashtra - home to India's financial hub, Mumbai - has been particularly hard hit by the virus. Its tally of 1.68 million cases is higher than countries such as Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Modi conducted a whirlwind three-city tour and visited the Zydus Cadila facility in the western city of Ahmedabad, Bharat Biotech's facilities in the southern hub of Hyderabad and the Serum Institute of India's sprawling campus in the western city of Pune.

In a series of tweets, Modi congratulated the scientists on their progress and assured them of his government's support.

The companies are testing homegrown vaccine options, as well as working on trials of vaccines being developed overseas.

Serum Institute, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, has partnered with global players including AstraZeneca and Novavax Inc to run domestic trials on their vaccine candidates and produce the vaccines, if they secure approvals.

Zydus Cadila is developing an indigenous DNA-based vaccine, ZyCov-D, while privately-held Bharat Biotech is working on a vaccine candidate called COVAXIN in a tie up with state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

India hopes to complete final trials on COVAXIN in a month or two, health minister Harsh Vardhan said earlier this month.

(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Euan Rocha and Christina Fincher)

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