A man runs past the burning funeral pyres of those who died from coronavirus during a mass cremation at a crematorium in New Delhi. Reuters
Gulf Today Report
India’s death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 200,000 as a virus surge sweeps the country, rooted in so-called super-spreader events that were allowed to happen in the months after India thought it had the pandemic under control.
The second wave of infections has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week, overwhelming healthcare facilities and crematoriums and driving an increasingly urgent international response, according to Reuters.
The health ministry on Wednesday reported 3,293 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing India’s total fatalities to 201,187. The deaths and the confirmed cases of 17.9 million are thought to be undercounts.
Ground staff unload medical aid from an aircarft sent from the United Kingdom upon its arrival at an airport in New Delhi. AFP
The last 24 hours brought 360,960 new cases for the world's largest single-day total, taking India's tally of infections to nearly 18 million. It was also the deadliest day so far, with 3,293 fatalities taking the toll to 201,187.
Now India is enduring its darkest chapter yet, with mass funeral pyres, burials and a collapse of the health system compounded by shortages of oxygen, ventilators, and hospital beds.
Fueling the catastrophe were a series of crowded events, like mass rallies by politicians such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, religious holidays and pilgrimages on the River Ganges, where people relaxed their vigilance and didn't wear masks or keep their social distance.
Experts believe the official tally vastly underestimates the actual toll in a nation of 1.3 billion, however.
People lower the body of a man, who died from coronavirus, into a grave during his funeral at a graveyard in New Delhi. Reuters
In the capital, New Delhi, ambulances lined up for hours to take COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows of funeral pyres.
Coronavirus sufferers, many struggling for breath, flocked to a Sikh temple on the city's outskirts, hoping to secure some of its limited supplies of oxygen.
Hospitals in and around the Indian capital said oxygen remains scarce, despite commitments to step up supplies.
"We spend the day lowering oxygen levels on our ventilators and other devices as our tanks show alarmingly dipping levels," Dr Devlina Chakravarty, the managing director of the Artemis hospital in the suburb of Gurgaon, wrote in the Times of India newspaper.
An activist urges people in a market to wear face masks as part of an awareness drive against the spread of coronavirus in Siliguri. AFP
"We make hundreds of calls and send messages every day to get our daily quota of oxygen."
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said people were falling sick more severely and for longer periods, stacking up the pressure.
"The current wave is particularly dangerous," he said.
"It is supremely contagious and those who are contracting it are not able to recover as swiftly. In these conditions, intensive care wards are in great demand."
Police said a fire early on Wednesday at a hospital on the outskirts of the financial capital of Mumbai killed four people and injured several more.
Health workers stand on the back of ambulance as they transport patients at the Jumbo COVID-19 field hospital in Mumbai. AP
Accidents at hospitals have become a special concern as India runs short of beds and oxygen supplies. Last week a fire at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients and a leaking oxygen tank at another killed 22 people.
Supplies arriving in New Delhi included ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain, with more sent from Australia, Germany and Ireland.
"First shipment of oxygen generators from #Taiwan to #India is leaving this week," Kolas Yotaka, a spokeswoman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, said on Twitter.
"We are all in this together."
Several countries have suspended flights from India, among measures to keep out more virulent variants of the virus.
A man carrying wood walks past the funeral pyres of those who died from coronavirus, during a mass cremation, in New Delhi. Reuters
Credit rating agency S&P Global said India's second wave of infections could impede its economic recovery and expose other nations to further waves of outbreaks.
The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, was susceptible to contagion from the highly infectious variants in India, given the region's low ratios of vaccination, it added. U.S. President Joe Biden said he had spoken at length with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues such as when the United States would be able to ship vaccines to the South Asian nation, and added that it was his clear intention to do so.
A patient wearing an oxygen mask is wheeled inside a COVID-19 hospital for treatment. Reuters
"I think we'll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines, as well as know-how, with other countries who are in real need. That's the hope and expectation," he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
The US State Department's coordinator for global COVID-19 response, Gayle Smith, warned that India's challenge called for a sustained effort: "We all need to understand that we are still at the front end of this. This hasn't peaked yet."
India, with a population of about 1.3 billion, has a tally of 17.64 million infections, but experts believe it runs much higher. Vaccine demand has outstripped supply, partly because of a shortage of raw materials and a fire at a facility making the AstraZeneca shot.
Relatives mourn near a coffin containing the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Srinagar. AP
Supply uncertainty could force western Maharashtra to postpone inoculations for people aged between 18 and 45, a government official said. India had planned to free up vaccination for all adults from May.
India is negotiating with the United States, which has said it will share 60 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine with other countries.
"Major lobbying is on ... to secure as much as possible," said a senior official participating in the talks, adding that Modi had been assured of priority for India.
A shipment from Britain, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in Delhi, said Reuters partner ANI, while France is sending oxygen generators able to provide 250 patients with a year's worth of the gas, its embassy said.
Daily infections rose by 382,315 on Wednesday, health ministry data showed. Government modelling had pointed to a peak by Wednesday, a few days earlier than thought, since the virus has spread faster than expected.
Twitter and Facebook have become the virtual command centres with the help of users, as governments fail to provide any real-time data on the availability of life-saving drugs and beds as the crisis deepens.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said oxygen would be released to hospitals from armed forces reserves and retired medical military personnel would join COVID-19 health facilities.
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