India sees new record COVID cases and deaths as crisis deepens

Hospitals and morgues are overwhelmed as India reports another world record number of daily infections.

The world's second-most populous nation is in deep crisis, with its hospitals overwhelmed by the second wave of the coronavirus [Idrees Mohammed/EPA]

India’s total COVID-19 cases have passed 18 million after another world record number of daily infections, as gravediggers worked around the clock to bury victims and hundreds more were cremated in makeshift pyres in parks and parking lots.

India reported 379,257 new infections and 3,645 new deaths on Thursday, health ministry data showed, the highest number of fatalities in a single day since the start of the pandemic. However, medical experts believe India’s true COVID-19 numbers may be five to 10 times greater than the official tally.

The world’s second-most populous nation is in deep crisis, with its hospitals and morgues overwhelmed. Each day, thousands of Indians search frantically for hospital beds and life-saving oxygen for sick relatives, using social media apps and personal contacts. Hospital beds that become available, especially in intensive care units (ICUs), are snapped up in minutes.

Hospitals in New Delhi are full and have had to turn away sick patients and their desperate family members [Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from the capital, New Delhi, said that hospitals in the city are full and they have had to turn away sick patients and their desperate family members.

“Delhi’s leaders say that despite trying their best, every single hospital is operating beyond its capacity. People inside hospitals are sharing beds, some are lying on corridor floors,” Puranam said.

“Delhi’s leaders say they hope to have 1,200 extra intensive care unit beds by May 10, but to put that number into perspective, that is around just five percent of the number of daily infections that Delhi is recording every single day and health experts say around 15 percent of people who are contracting the virus need hospitalisation.”

India’s military has begun moving key supplies, such as oxygen, across the nation and will open its healthcare facilities to civilians. Hotels and railway coaches have been converted into critical care facilities to make up for the shortage of hospital beds.

“The central government gave the Delhi government 500 beds in one of their defence hospitals. That filled up in just three hours,” Puranam said.

“The shortage of hospital beds and oxygen is so bad that the US government is the latest to tell its citizens that if they want to leave the country, they should do so now while there are still commercial flights.”

The US State Department said on Thursday that family members of US government employees in India can voluntarily return to the US.

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

Aid starts arriving

India expects to receive close to 550 oxygen generating facilities from around the world as medical aid starts pouring in, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Thursday, adding that 40 countries have pledged their support.

Two planes from Russia have arrived in Delhi, carrying 20 oxygen concentrators, 75 ventilators, 150 bedside monitors, and 22 tonnes of medicine.

Germany’s air force is preparing to fly medical supplies to India on Saturday, the German defence ministry said. Two A400M cargo aircraft will also transport an oxygen production plant in the coming week.

Bangladesh in a statement also said it will dispatch emergency medicine and equipment including approximately 10,000 vials of injectable anti-viral, oral anti-viral and 30,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters the country has bought 150 oxygen concentrators and plans to send them to India this weekend and is also looking at providing further aid.

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

Vaccination drive

Only about nine percent of India’s population of 1.4 billion has received a shot since the vaccination campaign began in January.

A mass vaccination drive due to begin on the weekend is also facing a setback as Indians struggle to register online.

Many who have tried to sign up said they failed, complaining on social media of being unable to get a slot or even to simply get on the website, as it repeatedly crashed.

Meanwhile, 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies