India has reported a record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 414,188, while deaths from COVID-19 swelled by 3,915, according to the health ministry data.
India’s total coronavirus infections now stand at 21.49 million, while its total fatalities have reached 234,083, the ministry said on Friday.
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The South Asian nation which is battling a ferocious second wave of coronavirus has added 1.57 million cases and just over 15,100 deaths this week alone.
Experts believe both the number of daily cases as well as deaths are an undercount.
K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the government, described the explosion of cases “a very critical time for the country” and warned of an “inevitable” third wave.
Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, suggested a complete shutdown in India may be needed for two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections.
“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian television CNN News18 news channel on Thursday.
Fauci suggested that India should mobilise its military to erect field hospitals that could ease the pressure on its beseiged hospitals.
Fauci also said it appears there are at least two types of virus variants circulating in India. He said B117, which is the UK variant, tends to be concentrated in New Delhi and the 617 variant is concentrated in the worst-hit western Maharashtra state.
“Both of those have increasing capability of transmitting better and more efficiently than the original Wuhan strain a year ago,” Fauci said.
Meanwhile, demand for hospital oxygen has increased seven-fold since last month, a government official said, as India struggles to set up large oxygen plants and transport oxygen to healthcare facilities.
Acting on a Supreme Court order, India’s government on Thursday agreed to provide more medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital city of New Delhi, after a chronic two-week-old shortage worsened the country’s coronavirus crisis.
The government has raised the oxygen supply to 730 tonnes from 490 tonnes per day in New Delhi as per Supreme Court orders.
The court intervened after 12 COVID-19 patients, including a doctor, died last week at New Delhi’s Batra Hospital when it ran out of medical oxygen for 80 minutes.
On Wednesday night, 11 other COVID-19 patients died when the pressure in an oxygen supply line stopped working at a government medical college hospital in Chengalpattu in southern India, The Times of India reported, speculating that a faulty valve could have caused the incident.
Hospital authorities said they had repaired the oxygen line last week but demands on the supply line and the consumption of oxygen had doubled since then, the newspaper said.
Government officials also denied reports that they have been slow in distributing life-saving medical supplies donated from abroad.
Ships carrying oxygen are bound for India from Bahrain and Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, officials said.
Most hospitals in India do not have their own plants to generate oxygen for patients. As a result, hospitals typically rely on liquid oxygen, which can be stored in cylinders and transported in tanker trucks.
Dr Himal Dev, the chief of the critical care unit at Apollo Hospital in the southern city of Bengaluru, said COVID-19 patients in intensive care wards need at least 10-15 liters of oxygen per minute because of reduced lung function.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said India has enough oxygen but faces capacity constraints moving it to where it is needed. Most oxygen is produced in the eastern parts of India but demand for supplies has risen in northern and western parts.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the coronavirus situation with top officials on Thursday and told them to ramp up the country’s vaccination drive.
The country, with nearly 1.4 billion people, has so far administered 162 million doses but faces vaccine shortages.
The US, Britain, Germany and several other nations are rushing medicine, rapid virus tests and oxygen and material the country needs to boost domestic production of vaccines to ease pressure on the country’s fragile health infrastructure.
India’s vaccine production is expected to get a boost with the US supporting a waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccine components from the US that have arrived in India will allow the manufacturing of 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said Daniel B Smith, a senior diplomat at the US embassy in New Delhi.
Last month, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, appealed to US President Joe Biden to lift an embargo on the export of raw materials from the US, which he said was affecting his company’s production of COVID-19 shots.
The government meanwhile described as “totally misleading” reports in the Indian media that health authorities took seven days to develop a procedure for distributing urgent medical supplies that started arriving from other countries on April 25.
The government said in a statement that a mechanism for allocating supplies received by India has been put in place for effective distribution. The Indian Red Cross Society is involved in distributing the supplies from abroad, the statement said.