Indian hospitals swamped by coronavirus as countries promise aid
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s new coronavirus infections hit a record peak for a fifth day on Monday, as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid to help battle the crisis overwhelming its hospitals.
The southern state of Karnataka, home to the tech city of Bengaluru, ordered a lockdown from Tuesday, joining the western industrial state of Maharashtra, where lockdowns run until May 1, although some states were set to lift the measures this week.
But the patchy curbs, complicated by local elections and mass festival gatherings, could prompt breakouts elsewhere, as infections rose by 352,991 in the last 24 hours, with crowded hospitals running out of oxygen supplies and beds.
“Currently the hospital is in beg-and-borrow mode and it is an extreme crisis situation,” said a spokesman for the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the capital, New Delhi.
In the western diamond industry hub of Surat, five COVID-19 patients died following a hospital blaze on Sunday after rescue workers moved them to hospitals with few beds in intensive care units, a municipal official told Reuters.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution, while hospitals and doctors put out urgent notices saying they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.
In some of the worst-hit cities, such as New Delhi, bodies were being burnt in makeshift facilities offering mass services.
Television channel NDTV broadcast images of three health workers in the eastern state of Bihar pulling a body along the ground on its way to cremation, as stretchers ran short.
“If you’ve never been to a cremation, the smell of death never leaves you,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
“My heart breaks for all my friends and family in Delhi and India going through this hell.”
On Sunday, President Joe Biden said the United States would send raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to India. Germany joined a growing list of countries pledging to send supplies.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has an official tally of 17.31 million infections and 195,123 deaths, after 2,812 deaths overnight, health ministry data showed, although health experts say the figures probably run higher.
The scale of the second wave knocked oil prices as traders worried about a fall in fuel demand in the world’s third-biggest oil importer.
Politicians, especially Modi, have faced criticism for holding rallies during state election campaigns that draw thousands of people, packed close together in stadiums and grounds.
Several cities have ordered curfews, while police have been deployed to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing.
The southern state of Karnataka, home to Bengaluru, will impose a 14-day lockdown from Tuesday to rein in a surge of infections, its chief minister said.
Still, about 8.6 million voters were expected to cast ballots on Monday in the eastern state of West Bengal, in the final phases of an election set to wrap up this week.
Also voting in local elections was the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which has been reporting an average of 30,000 infections a day.
Modi’s plea on vaccinations came after inoculations peaked at 4.5 million doses on April 5, but have since averaged about 2.7 million a day, government figures show.
Several states, including Maharashtra halted vaccinations in some places on Sunday, saying supplies were not available.
“I don’t know when my turn will come,” said 68-year old Shubhada Pendse, who had queued outside a vaccination centre in the state’s town of Satara since 7 a.m. on Monday.
She was one of a gathering of more than 1,000 just hours before the centre re-opened after a gap of two days.
Vaccine demand has outpaced supply as the inoculation campaign widened this month, while companies struggle to boost output, partly because of a shortage of raw material and a fire at a facility making the AstraZeneca dose.
However, the federal government will not import vaccines itself but expects states and companies to do so instead, in a step to back domestic manufacturers, two government officials told Reuters.
Hospitals in Modi’s western home state of Gujarat also face an acute shortage of oxygen, doctors said.
Just seven ICU beds of a total of 1,277 were available in 166 private hospitals designated to treat the virus in the state’s largest city of Ahmedabad, data showed.
“The problem is grim everywhere, especially in smaller hospitals, which do not have central oxygen lines,” said Mona Desai, former president of the Ahmedabad Medical Association.
Neighbouring Bangladesh sealed its border with India for 14 days, its foreign ministry said, though trade will continue. Air travel has been suspended since Bangladesh imposed a lockdown on April 14 to combat record infections and deaths.