Millions vote in local polls as India COVID cases soar

Millions vote in the final phase of marathon polls in West Bengal despite a record spike in COVID infections and deaths.

Relatives lower the body of a person who died from COVID-19 into a grave in New Delhi, India {Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

As India grappled with the world’s worst coronavirus crisis, fires in crematoriums burned around the clock with the capital New Delhi reporting one death every four minutes.

Thursday marked another grim record high with 379,257 new infections and 3,645 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Meanwhile, a mass vaccination drive due to begin this weekend faced a setback as Indians struggle to register online.

To help cope with the country’s shortages of hospital beds and medical oxygen, allies overseas began sending equipment.

This live blog is now closed. These were Thursday’s updates:

Lebanon suspends arrivals from India

Lebanon has asked carriers operating at the Beirut International Airport to prevent passengers from India to land due to the surge in coronavirus infections.

Any arrival from India must stay 14 days in another country before being allowed to enter Lebanon, according to a statement by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

India’s COVID-19 emergency is wake-up call to Africa: AU health chief

The raging state of the COVID-19 pandemic is India is a wake-up call for Africa that its governments and citizens must not let their guards down, the African Union’s disease control agency has warned.

African nations generally do not have sufficient numbers of health care workers, hospital beds, oxygen supplies, and the continent of 1.3 billion would be even more overwhelmed than India if cases surged in a similar way, said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nkengasong urged Africans to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, warning: “We cannot and should not find ourselves in [India’s] scenario because of the very fragile nature of our health systems.”

The AU will convene a meeting with all African ministers of health on May 8, Nkengasong said, to “put everybody on alert”.

Read more here.

Kluge: The situation in India can happen anywhere

The World Health Organisation has warned that the situation in India, which is struggling with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases, could happen anywhere.

“When personal protective measures are being relaxed, when there are mass gatherings, when there are more contagious variants and the vaccination coverage is still low – this can basically create a perfect storm in any country,” said Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

At a virtual briefing in the Danish capital Copenhagen, he told reporters that the B1617 coronavirus variant – thought to partly be responsible for India’s crisis- was now considered a ‘variant of interest’ by the WHO.

Germany reports cases of Indian COVID variant

Germany has said that it has cases of a COVID-19 variant feared to be contributing to a surge in India, the latest country to detect the strain.

“We have isolated cases in Germany, we will release a new report tomorrow,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease agency, told reporters when asked about the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19, which was first found in India.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the variant had been detected in “at least 17 countries”.

US OKs return of US government workers’ families from India

Family members of US government employees in India can voluntarily return to the United States, the US State Department has said.

The department, which approved the move on Wednesday, also said in a notice any other US citizens who want to leave the country should use commercial aircraft. It reiterated its warning for US travelers not to go to India.

Destination Dubai: Jets in demand to escape India’s COVID horror

Indians from the millions-strong expat community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), stranded in their homeland during a catastrophic coronavirus surge, are swamping private jet operators with requests to whisk them back to safety.

Fearing a prolonged flight ban between India and the Gulf state, they aim to use an exemption for private business planes that was in effect last year during the first wave of the global crisis.

Read the full story here.

Sold his SUV to buy oxygen for people: India’s good Samaritans

On Sunday, Maria Mehra, a 56-year-old COVID-19 patient, was gasping for breath at her home in Mumbai.

Her oxygen level had dropped to 76 and she needed immediate hospitalisation. But there were no beds available, given the record number of infections across the metropolis over the past several weeks.

Her desperate family tried frantically to arrange a hospital bed or an oxygen cylinder for her but could not find one until Maria’s brother-in-law Jackson Quadras, 47, reached out to Shahnawaz Shahalam Sheikh.

Read the full story here.

Patients breathe with the help of oxygen provided by a gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along the roadside amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Ghaziabad [Prakash Singh/AFP]

A Delhi family’s desperation: ‘We’re rationing dad’s oxygen’

For the past two weeks, the Yeshudas family has been living in the throes of despair. Residents of Dilshad Colony, a lower-middle-class settlement in the northeast of the capital, New Delhi, all three family members are suffering severe COVID-19 symptoms – fever, nausea, breathlessness and vomiting.

But they have not been able to see a doctor as all of the nearby government hospitals “are choked with patients and have intimidatingly long queues outside”, explains 27-year-old Ajin Yeshudas. Private doctors are expensive and “well beyond our means”, he adds.

Read the full story here.

Millions vote in final phase of regional polls

Millions have voted in the final phase of a marathon election in India’s West Bengal state despite a record-breaking spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Long queues of voters appeared outside polling booths as many in rural parts of the state failed to observe social distancing rules, with some wearing masks but others hanging them loosely on their chins or from their ears.

Packed election rallies attended by mostly maskless crowds including in the restive eastern state, along with huge religious festivals, have been blamed for India’s surge in cases over the past few weeks.

Voters queue up to cast their ballot during the final phase of West Bengal’s state legislative assembly elections in Kolkata [AFP]

Germany to fly medical supplies to India

Germany’s air force is preparing to fly medical and oxygen supplies to India, where medicines and equipment are running short.

The Luftwaffe is to fly medical supplies on Saturday, the German defence ministry said.

Two A400M cargo aircraft will also transport an oxygen production plant in the coming week. There are also plans for 16 paramedics to set up the plant and provide instructions about its use.

Some 120 ventilators are to be flown to India on the first flight on Saturday, as announced earlier by the health ministry.

Australian cricketers beat flight ban to flee India

Two Australian cricketers arrived back home after withdrawing from the Indian Premier League and fleeing the COVID-stricken country, circumventing a ban on flights by travelling via the Middle East.

Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa flew into Melbourne from Doha and are currently undergoing quarantine, according to

Earlier this week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a temporary ban on arrivals from India due to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, leaving thousands of Australians stranded.

Fourteen of their compatriots remain in India with the league’s eight teams, including David Warner, Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Glenn Maxwell.

Australia’s Adam Zampa, left, and team-mate Kane Richardson wait for the team photo during a Twenty20 cricket match [File: Marty Melville/AFP]

Bangladesh offers medical aid

Bangladesh has offered emergency medicines and medical supplies to its close neighbour India.

“In view of the rapidly deteriorating Corona situation in India, the Government of Bangladesh has offered to dispatch on emergency basis medicines and medical equipment for the people of India who are fighting the pandemic across the country,” said a Bangladesh Foreign Ministry statement.

The medical and medicine supplies include approximately 10,000 vials of injectable anti-viral, oral anti-viral, 30,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, and several thousand zinc, calcium, vitamin C, and other necessary tablets, the statement added.

“The Government of Bangladesh expresses deep sorrow and condolences at the loss of lives in India due to the spread of the COVID pandemic. Bangladesh stands in solidarity with close neighbour India at this critical moment and is ready to provide and mobilise support in every possible way to save lives.”

“The thoughts and prayers of the people of Bangladesh are with the people of India for alleviating their sufferings. Bangladesh is interested to provide further support to India, if needed,” it said.

In pictures: India’s deadly COVID surge follows crowded events

Heightening the current coronavirus crisis in India was a series of crowded events, like mass rallies by politicians such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, religious holidays and pilgrimage on the Ganges River.

Here is a look at some of those “super-spreader” events.

Indian holy men, or Naga Sadhu, make their way to take a holy dip in the Ganges River during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, on April 14, 2021 [File: Idrees Mohammed/EPA]


Female farmers shout slogans as they take part in a Maha Rally (mega rally), organised by a leading farmers’ organisation, at the local grain market in Amritsar, Punjab on April 18, 2021 [File: Raminder Pal Singh/EPA]

COVID positive groom weds bride in India

As India grapples with the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic, a COVID-19 positive man decided to get married. The wedding ceremony took place in Ratlam, in Madhya Pradesh.

The bride and the groom and the rest of the family members wore personal protective equipment (PPE) kits as a priest, also in PPE, recited sacred verses and performed the wedding rituals on Monday.

The wedding took place after getting permission from the government.

According to Shyam Lal, the father of the groom, his son was infected a few days before the wedding, but was asymptomatic.

40 countries to supply oxygen: Indian foreign secretary

India has prioritised imports of oxygen, said Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, adding that 40 countries had pledged their support.

“We are talking about close to 550 oxygen generating plants that are going to come in from different sources from all over the world,” Shringla told a news conference.

Mumbai gravediggers work 24/7 shifts

Two or three months into the COVID-19 crisis, Mumbai gravedigger Sayyed Munir Kamruddin stopped wearing personal protective equipment and gloves.

“I’m not scared of COVID, I have worked with courage. It’s all about courage, not about fear,” said the 52-year-old, who has been digging graves in the megacity for 25 years.

Kamruddin says he and his colleagues are working around the clock to bury COVID-19 victims.

Read the full story here.

Relatives lower the body of a person who died from the coronavirus disease into a grave at a graveyard in Mumbai, India [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

India’s Uttarakhand state suspends Hindu pilgrimage

India’s northern Uttarakhand state has announced the suspension of Char Dham Yatra, an ensemble of four Hindu pilgrimage sites which was supposed to start on May 14, due to the coronavirus crisis.

Only priests of the four temples – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri – will perform rituals and puja, said Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, according to Indian media reports.

Uttarakhand, which also hosted the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela (pitcher festival) attended by millions earlier this month, recorded 6,054 new COVID-19 cases and 108 deaths in the past 24 hours.

‘Friend in need’: Russian humanitarian aid lands in India

Two Russian flights have landed in India, bringing 20 tonnes of medical equipment including oxygen concentrators and lung ventilators, said Moscow’s ambassador to India.

“This is the only way we can defeat COVID-19 – by uniting our endeavors and supporting each other in difficult times,” Nikolay Kudashev tweeted.

In a video tweeted by the Russian embassy in India, Kudashev said, “The Russian Federation decided to send humanitarian assistance to India in the spirit of the special and privileged strategic partnership between our two countries as well as in the context of our anti-COVID-19 cooperation.”

India’s West Bengal state votes in regional polls

The eighth and final phase of voting is being held in India’s eastern state of West Bengal amid a record surge in coronavirus infections.

The state logged 17,207 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, of which 3,821 cases were reported in the capital, Kolkata, Indian media reports said.

Votes will be counted on May 2. India’s election commission has banned victory processions in the wake of the pandemic.

Catholic nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, the global order of nuns founded by Saint Mother Teresa wait in a line to cast their vote outside a polling station during the eighth and final phase of the state election in West Bengal [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

Suspending IPL not the answer: Australia’s Cummins

Australia speedster Pat Cummins understands how grim India’s coronavirus battle is, but does not think suspending Indian Premier League (IPL) play will help, the Kolkata Knight Riders player said.

The deadly second wave has prompted calls to halt the popular Twenty20 competition, which is being played in a bio-secure bubble and without spectators, but Cummins believes otherwise.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure we don’t take any resources out of the front line,” the 27-year-old told the WION news channel.

Why is India facing a deadly crunch of oxygen?

A devastating surge in coronavirus infections has exposed India’s dilapidated health infrastructure and a chronic shortage of oxygen – a key treatment for seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

But why is medical oxygen vital? And does India produce enough oxygen?

Find out here.

India’s coronavirus infections cross 18 million

India has reported a record rise in coronavirus cases and deaths over the last 24 hours, pushing its overall caseload above 18 million.

With 379,257 new cases and 3,645 new deaths, India’s total number of cases and deaths are now at 18.38 million and 204,832, respectively, according to health ministry data.

A man waits to cremate his relative, who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium ground in New Delhi [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

US to send more than $100m in COVID-19 supplies to India

The White House said the United States is sending supplies worth more than $100m to India to help it fight the surge of COVID cases.

The supplies, which will begin arriving on Thursday and continue into next week, include 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and one million rapid diagnostic tests, the statement said.

The US also redirected its own order of AstraZeneca vaccine manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make more than 20 million doses, according to the White House.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States when our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” the White House said in a factsheet outlining the aid.

Taiwan to send COVID-19 aid to India this weekend

Taiwan has bought 150 oxygen concentrators and plans to send them to India this weekend and is also looking at providing further aid, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said.

Wu told reporters that they had been working on an aid package for India and have already bought 150 oxygen concentrators, which should be sent this weekend.

“We are in the process of buying more oxygen concentrators and buying raw materials from overseas so our companies at home can produce even more,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies