India recorded the highest daily count in the world, at 314,835 COVID-19 infections, on Thursday, when a second wave of the pandemic sparked new fears about the ruined health services’ ability to cope.
Health officials across northern and western India, including the capital, New Delhi, said they were in crisis, with most hospitals overcrowded and without oxygen.
Doctors in some places advised patients to stay home while a crematorium in the eastern city of Muzaffarpur said he was overburdened with bodies and that grieving families had to wait for their turn.
“At the moment there are no beds or oxygen. Everything else is secondary,” Shahid Jameel, virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, told Reuters.
“The infrastructure is disintegrating.”
Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina in the United States, said on Twitter that the crisis was leading to the collapse of the health care system.
The previous record increase in cases in one day was halted by the United States, which had 297,430 new cases in one day in January, although its count has dropped dramatically since then.
The total number of cases in India now stands at 15.93 million, while deaths have increased by 2,104, reaching a total of 184,657, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health.
Television showed images of people with empty oxygen cylinders filling the refueling facilities as they struggled to save relatives at the hospital.
In the western city of Ahmedabad, a man tied to an oxygen cylinder was lying in the back of a car in front of a hospital while waiting for a bed, a Reuters photo showed.
“We never thought that a second wave would hit us so hard,” wrote Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairman of the health care company Biocon & Biocon Biologics, in the Economic Times.
“Complacency led to an unforeseen shortage of drugs, medical supplies and hospital beds.”
Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said there is a shortage of beds in intensive care units, with the city needing about 5,000 more than it can find. Some hospitals had enough oxygen for 10 hours, others only six.
“We cannot call this a comfortable situation,” he told reporters.
Similar outbreaks of infections in other parts of the world, in South America in particular, are threatening to overwhelm other health services. Read More
India launched a vaccination campaign, but only a small fraction of the population received the vaccines.
Authorities have announced that vaccines will be available to anyone over the age of 18 as of May 1, but India will not have enough vaccines for the 600 million people who will become eligible, experts say.
Health experts said India dropped its guard when the virus appeared to be under control during the winter, when the new daily cases were around 10,000, and lifted restrictions to allow for large concentrations.
Some experts say that new, more infectious virus variants, in particular a “double mutant” variant originating in India, are primarily responsible for the increase in cases, but many also blame politicians.
“The second wave is a consequence of complacency, mixing and mass gathering. You don’t need a variant to explain the second wave,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ordered a broad blockade last year, in the early stages of the pandemic, but has been cautious about the economic costs of tougher restrictions.
In recent weeks, the government has been criticized for holding crowded political rallies for local elections and allowing a Hindu festival in which millions have gathered.
This week, Modi called on state governments to use blockades as a last resort. He asked people to stay at home and said the government was working to increase the supply of oxygen and vaccines.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Global Health and Scientific Security at Georgetown University, said the situation in India was “painful and terrible”.
“It is the result of a complex mix of bad political decisions, bad advice to justify those decisions, global and domestic policies and a number of other complex variables,” she said on Twitter.
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