India’s coronavirus death toll overtook neighbouring China’s on Friday, with 175 new deaths recorded in 24 hours taking the total to 4,706, according to data from the health ministry.
The world’s second-most populous nation is emerging as a new hotspot with record jumps in new cases in recent days as hospitals are overwhelmed with patients.
It recorded 7,466 new cases, raising the total number of infections to 165,799, with western Maharashtra state – the financial hub of Mumbai – accounting for 36 percent of cases and 42 percent of deaths.
Nearly a fifth of the country’s coronavirus cases is in the financial hub of Mumbai making it the worst-hit city in the country. There are more patients than hospital beds in the city of 18 million with reports of health officials being overworked.
Patients have been waiting for hours, days even for a bed, shunted from hospital to hospital, with many dying as they waited on a bed.
Video clips shared on social media showed patients sharing beds or lying on the floor and in some cases oxygen cylinders were split at Mumbai’s Sion hospital, which is located close to the densely populated slum of Dharavi.
Authorities fear a spike in cases at Dharavi – which is home to an estimated 700,000 to one million people crammed in a roughly five-square-kilometre area.
Amid reports of a shortage of beds, the city unveiled plans for “jumbo” facilities to ease the strain.
Ashwini Bhide, of Mumbai’s civic corporation, said a 5,000-seater stadium that was converted into a 500-bed quarantine facility last month had “served the city to a huge extent”.
“Hinging upon that experience, new facilities are planned,” Bhide told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mumbai’s municipal authority last week said it had ordered public officials to take control of at least 100 private hospital beds in all 24 zones in the city to make more beds available for coronavirus patients.
Experts say India’s densely packed cities and its creaking healthcare system are ill-prepared to handle the biggest health crisis of modern times.
The federal government’s data from last year showed there were about 714,000 hospital beds in India, up from about 540,000 in 2009.
India has 0.5 beds for every 1,000 people, according to the latest data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In contrast, China has 4.3 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, and the United States has 2.8, according to the latest OECD figures.
China, where the deadly virus emerged late last year, reported no new deaths or new suspected cases on Friday, with the death toll still at 4,634 and a total of 82,995 infections.
Even though the number of cases is surging, India has steadily loosened its lockdown to lessen the significant effect the pandemic is having on the economy – and the country’s poor who have been the hardest hit.
Millions of India’s poor, including migrant workers, have suffered from the strict lockdown, with many in cities losing their jobs, going hungry and struggling to return to their home villages.
Some have walked or cycled hundreds of kilometres home in the harsh summer heat, with dozens dying from exhaustion or in accidents along the way.
Almost every day tragic visuals of migrants in distress have emerged highlighting the scale of the crisis. On Wednesday, a viral video clip showed a toddler trying to wake up his dead mother causing an outcry.
More than 100 million Indians have been rendered jobless due to the strict lockdown imposed on March 25 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Critics have accused the Modi government of imposing the lockdown without much planning that has caused havoc on the economy and created the worst migrant crisis since the country achieved independence in 1947.
On Thursday, the country’s Supreme Court issued a series of orders to alleviate a looming humanitarian crisis among millions of migrant workers stranded in cities as the fourth phase of lockdown ends on May 31.
A three-judge bench directed the government to grant free bus and train travel for the migrants to return to their home states, adding that the fare cost will be shared by the respective states, legal news website Bar & Bench reported.
The government previously said labourers would not be charged for travel, however, domestic media have reported cases of fares being demanded from destitute workers.
Home Minister Amit Shah was due on Friday to hold talks with state chief ministers to discuss a further relaxing of restrictions, press reports said. He might also take a decision on whether to extend the lockdown or not.
The pandemic has killed 359,000 people worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, with the United States recording the most deaths at more than 100,000.
More than 5.8 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed around the world, while more than 2.4 million have recovered.