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Indian hospitals swamped by coronavirus as countries promise aid

By Reuters | April 27th 2021
A patient receives oxygen outside a Gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in New Delhi, India on Saturday. [Courtesy: AP]

India’s new coronavirus infections hit a record peak for a fifth day yesterday, 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 14-day lockdown from today, 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 24 hours to yesterday, 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.

Following a fire at a hospital in the western diamond industry hub of Surat, five Covid-19 patients died after being moved to other hospitals that lacked space in their intensive care units, a municipal official told Reuters.

Unable to cope

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 influx.

In some of the worst-hit cities, such as New Delhi, bodies were being burnt in makeshift facilities offering mass cremations.

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.

In Moscow, which expects 50 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to be made each month in India this summer, a Kremlin spokesman expressed concern over the situation. “I am not aware of any requests from the Indian authorities for help, but we do not exclude emergency contacts between Russia and India in the coming days,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a daily conference call.

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. Several cities have ordered curfews, while police enforce social distancing and mask-wearing.

Politicians, especially Modi, have faced criticism for holding rallies during state election campaigns that draw thousands, packed into stadiums and grounds.

About 8.6 million voters were expected to cast ballots on Monday in the eastern state of West Bengal, in the final phases of a contest 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.

Maharashtra was among several states that halted vaccinations in some places on Sunday for lack of supply.

“I don’t know when my turn will come,” said 68-year old Shubhada Pendse, who was one of more than 1,000 people who had flocked to a vaccination centre in the state’s town of Satara hours before it re-opened on Monday after a two-day gap.

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.  

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