India records over 200,000 new COVID cases for the first time

Country reports 200,739 cases, skyrocketing past 14 million overall, as intensifying outbreak puts a grim weight on its fragile healthcare system.

COVID patients at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital in New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

India has reported a record 200,739 COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, according to the health ministry, as Delhi government announces weekend lockdowns in the capital and hospitals treating patients report severe shortages of beds and oxygen supplies.

Deaths stood at 1,038, taking the total to 173,123, the data showed on Thursday. The country’s total caseload reached 14.1 million, just behind the United States that leads the global tally with 31.4 million cases.

Thursday’s surge was the seventh record daily increase in the last eight days and comes as India battles a massive second wave of infections that has its epicentre in the economically significant state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai. The western state accounts for about a quarter of the country’s total cases.

Delhi state will go into weekend lockdowns to contain a steep increase in COVID-19 infections, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said.

Shopping malls, gyms, dine-out service at restaurants and some weekly markets will be shut during the weekend and only essential services would remain operational, Kejriwal said.

‘Situation is horrible’

Due to the surge in cases, there has been huge stress on the country’s fragile health infrastructure, with many areas reporting shortages of intensive care (ICU) beds and oxygen cylinders in several states.

Hospitals and doctors in Maharashtra as well other regions including Gujarat and Delhi in the north reported chaotic scenes as healthcare facilities were overwhelmed with a surge in admissions of COVID-19 patients.

“The situation is horrible. We are a 900-bed hospital, but there are about 60 patients waiting and we don’t have space for them,” said Avinash Gawande, an official at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur, a commercial hub in Maharashtra.

A paramedic adjusts an oxygen mask on a patient inside an ambulance waiting in a queue to enter a COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad [Amit Dave/Reuters]

In Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, there was a long line of ambulances where patients were being treated, as there was no space in the hospital which said they were short of oxygen cylinders.

“If such conditions persist, the death toll will rise,” the head of a medical body in Ahmedabad wrote in a letter to the Gujarat state chief minister.

India’s government said the country was producing oxygen at its full capacity everyday for the last two days and it had boosted output.

“Along with the ramped up production of the oxygen manufacturing units and the surplus stocks available, the present availability of oxygen is sufficient,” the health ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

People wait to have their Iftar on the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, amid the spread of COVID-19 disease, at Jama Masjid in the old quarters of Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

‘Surge is alarming’

In capital Delhi, too, daily COVID-19 cases are hitting new records, with doctors warning the surge could be deadlier than in 2020.

According to the statistics, Delhi recorded 17,282 cases over the past 24 hours – the highest single-day figure so far – as the city was running short of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, with only about 171 with ventilators available late on Wednesday.

“This virus is more infectious and virulent… We have 35-year olds with pneumonia in intensive care, which was not happening last year,” said Dhiren Gupta, a paediatrician at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi. “The situation is chaotic.”

More than a dozen hotels and wedding banquet halls in the city were ordered to be converted into COVID-19 centers attached to hospitals.

“The surge is alarming,” said SK Sarin, a government health expert in New Delhi.

With more fatalities reported, there has been a huge burden on crematoriums and burial grounds in the capital city.

A constant stream of hearses could be seen arriving at Nigambodh Ghat, one of Delhi’s main crematoriums, where the waiting time for a cremation was five to six hours, NDTV news channel reported.

Local television channels also showed angry relatives of a patient who died after spending hours on a stretcher outside a COVID-19 hospital in Jharkhand state’s capital, Ranchi, where all the beds were reported to be occupied.

Similar scenes could be seen in neighbouring Bihar’s capital, Patna.

Beds with oxygen support are seen at a recently constructed quarantine facility for patients diagnosed with the coronavirus disease in Mumbai [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

In Mumbai, two huge complexes for patients were being set up as the Maharashtra government initiated a range of curbs on movement, gatherings and commercial establishments for two weeks.

Beginning Wednesday night, all shops, malls and e-commerce deliveries except of essential items like food, groceries and medicine were suspended until May 1.

All manufacturing units except export-oriented ones and those manufacturing essential items would also be closed. Bars and restaurants have already been closed and gatherings of more than five people are banned across the state.

In recent days, migrant workers hauling backpacks have swarmed overcrowded trains leaving Mumbai.

India saw a downward trend in infections starting at the end of 2020 but the numbers began rising again in mid-February.

Recent regional elections and festivals including the mammoth month-long Kumbh Mela are expected to accelerate the infection rate further, with virologist Shahid Jamil calling them super-spreader events.

India’s vaccine campaign started in January with the aim of inoculating 300 million of its 1.35 billion population by July.

More than 111 million vaccine doses have been given so far, of which 13 million were second doses, the health ministry said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies