NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - India saw a record one-day jump with more than 300,000 new Covid-19 infections, marking a grim milestone for the country as a deadlier second wave shows no signs of abating and with most hospitals in the capital city gasping for oxygen supplies.
The South Asian nation, which has the world's second-largest outbreak, reported 314,835 new cases on Thursday (April 22), pushing the total tally to almost 16 million cases.
The United States, which is the worst-hit nation globally, saw its peak one-day surge of 314,312 cases on Dec 21 last year and has only reported more than 300,000 cases on two days since the onset of the pandemic. Infections in America are now on a downward trend, helped in part by aggressive vaccination.
Deaths related to Covid-19 in India jumped to 184,657. The country has administered more than 132 million vaccine doses, according to data from India's Health Ministry. That is enough to cover about 4.8 per cent of its vast 1.3 billion population, according to Bloomberg's vaccine tracker.
The official statistics belie the real extent of the crisis as crematoriums across the country are flooded with bodies.
The worsening outbreak threatens to derail the Indian economy that had just begun to recover after a nationwide lockdown last year pushed it into a historic recession.
A new virus variant with a double mutation has also emerged locally, and concerns are growing that it is driving the fierce new wave that is overwhelming India's hospitals and crematoriums.
Battle for oxygen
Major private and government-run hospitals in New Delhi have sent out urgent appeals to the central government, calling for immediate supply of oxygen for hundreds of patients on ventilator support.
On Wednesday, nearly 500 tonnes of oxygen was supplied to Delhi but this fell short of the required 700 tonnes per day.
The megacity’s government, run by a different party to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national administration, has accused neighbouring states governed by Mr Modi’s BJP of holding up supplies.
On Wednesday night, New Delhi’s largest hospital chain operator had to knock on the door of the city state’s high court after 1,400 Covid-19 patients across the Indian capital were put at risk due to dangerously low levels of oxygen supply.
Two back-to-back emergency hearings ended late Wednesday night after an oxygen tanker finally left for one branch of the Max Hospital, which had more than 250 Covid-19 patients in a critical state and the lowest level of crucial oxygen.
The Delhi High Court’s two-judge panel headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi expressed shock and dismay over the government’s neglect and directed Mr Modi’s administration to “beg, borrow, steal” but ensure adequate oxygen supply for hospitals.
"This is just bad planning. Why didn’t we foresee this? This is not rocket science,” Justice Sanghi said during the hearing.
The country with the fastest-growing Covid-19 caseload was caught utterly unprepared for a new wave of infections that started surging in March.
The late-night courtroom drama, with the state and federal government lawyers bickering over oxygen supplies to the national capital, which has among the best health care infrastructure in the country, is a grim indicator of a worse situation in the hinterlands. The nation’s social media has turned into a helpline with desperate calls for help to secure medicines, hospital beds, and oxygen cylinders.
States, including Maharashtra that is home to the country’s financial capital Mumbai, are in a constant tussle with the federal government for supplies of oxygen and crucial drugs. During the hearing on Wednesday, the Delhi state government’s lawyer urged the court to order a corridor with adequate security arrangements for oxygen tankers.
Lawyers for the federal government and Inox Air Products, a company supplying oxygen, informed the court that one of the reasons for the immediate shortage was a leak reported in Maharashtra. Two dozen people died due to lack of oxygen after a newly constructed gas supply tank leaked at a municipal hospital in Nasik city, the Indian Express reported.
The court asked the federal government to divert all oxygen from industries for medical use if needed. It will resume hearing on the petition Thursday afternoon.
“We never thought a second wave would hit us so hard,” Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the executive chairman of Biocon and Biocon Biologics, an Indian healthcare firm, wrote in the Economic Times.
“Complacency led to unanticipated shortages of medicines, medical supplies and hospital beds," she said.