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Economy

India central bank outlines $6.8bn of COVID relief measures

RBI move comes as nation posts record 3,780 virus-linked deaths

A woman sits inside an ambulance as she waits to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment in Ahmedabad, India, on Wednesday.

NEW DELHI -- India's central bank on Wednesday announced a 500-billion rupee ($6.76 billion) liquidity facility under which banks can provide fresh lending support to entities such as vaccine makers, oxygen suppliers, hospitals and patients.

The liquidity window with tenors of up to three years is being opened through March 31, 2022 "to boost provision of immediate liquidity for ramping up COVID-related health care infrastructure and services in the country," Reserve Bank of India Gov. Shaktikanta Das said in an unscheduled address.

India is battling a massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, with hospitals running out of oxygen and beds. Crematoriums and burial sites are overflowing with bodies.

On Wednesday, India reported a record 3,780 deaths and 382,315 new infections -- pushing the country's total caseload to over 20.66 million. The record comes a day after India surpassed 20 million cases, making it only the second country after the U.S. to have crossed the grim milestone.

Das noted that the Indian economy had been in a good position as the previous financial year was drawing to a close in March, but in just a few weeks the situation has altered drastically.

"Today, India is fighting a ferocious rise in infections and mortalities," he said, pointing out that the new mutant strains have emerged, "causing severe strains on health care and medical facilities, vaccine supplies and front line health personnel."

India's first wave peaked in mid-September at more than 97,000 daily infections, but the second wave is more infectious and deadlier.

The country, which started its Covid-19 inoculation drive on Jan. 16, widened the program on May 1 making all adults eligible for vaccination. Until April 30, people aged 45 and above were eligible. However, vaccinations for the newly added 18-44 age group has yet to pick speed owing to dwindling supplies of jabs.

"The second wave, though debilitating, is not unsurmountable," Das said. "We have lessons to draw from our experience of last year, when as a nation we came together and overcame the once-in-a-generation challenge imposed by the first wave of the pandemic."

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