India's daily Covid-19 cases rise by record 414,188

A health worker walks inside the Common Wealth Games stadium temporarily converted into a Covid-19 care centre in New Delhi, on May 5, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BENGALURU (REUTERS) - India on Friday (May 7) reported a record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 414,188, while deaths from Covid-19 swelled by 3,915, according to health ministry data.

India's total coronavirus infections now stands at 21.49 million, while its total fatalities have reached 234,083. The South Asian nation has added 1.57 million cases and nearly 15,100 deaths this week alone.

Citizens across the country, the world's second-most populous, are struggling to find beds, oxygen or medicines, and many are dying due to a lack of treatment.

With hospitals scrabbling for beds and oxygen in response to the surge in infections, the World Health Organisation said in a weekly report that India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week and a quarter of the deaths.

Medical experts say India's actual figures could be five to 10 times the official tallies.

India's Covid-19 crisis has been most acute in the capital, New Delhi, among other cities, but in rural areas - home to nearly 70 per cent of India's 1.3 billion people - limited public healthcare is posing more challenges.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became "super spreader" events.

The surge in infections has also coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations because of supply and delivery problems, despite India being a major vaccine producer.

In a letter, India's main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi warned on Friday that unless the deadly second wave was brought under control it would devastate India as well as threaten the rest of the world.

He implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a countrywide vaccination programme and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.

He said the world's second-most populous nation had a responsibility in "a globalised and interconnected world" to stop the "explosive" growth of Covid-19 within its borders.

"India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet. The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form," wrote Mr Gandhi.

"Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world."

"Your government's lack of a clear and coherent Covid and vaccination strategy, as well as its hubris in declaring premature victory as the virus was exponentially spreading, has placed India in a highly dangerous position," Mr Gandhi added in the letter addressed to Mr Modi on Friday.

The Hindustan Times newspaper on Friday demanded: "Accelerate the vaccine drive, get the second wave of the pandemic under some control..."

While India is the world's biggest vaccine maker, it is struggling to produce enough doses to stem the wave of Covid-19.

Mr Modi has stressed that Indian states must keep up vaccination rates. Although the country has administered at least 157 million vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply in recent days.

"After having achieved a rate of around 4 million a day, we are now down to 2.5 million per day due to vaccine shortages," Dr Amartya Lahiri, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia was quoted as saying in the Mint newspaper.

"The 5 million a day target is the lower bound of what we have to aim for, since even at that rate, it will take a year for us to get everyone two doses. The situation unfortunately is very grim."

New epicentre in Southern states

The European Union on Thursday backed a US proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines in an effort to increase the supply and access to vaccines, especially in vulnerable developing countries.

India's healthcare system is crumbling under the weight of Covid-19 patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums can not handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and carparks.

Although northern and western India bear the brunt of the disease, the share of the five southern states in the country's daily surge in infections rose from 28 per cent to 33 per cent in the first seven days of May, data shows.

In the southern city of Chennai, only one in a hundred oxygen supported beds and two in a hundred beds in intensive care units were vacant on Thursday, from a vacancy rate of over 20 per cent each two weeks ago, government data showed.

In India's tech capital Bengaluru, only 23 of the 590 beds in intensive care units were vacant, and only 1 in 50 beds with a ventilator were vacant, a situation officials say points to an impending crisis.

Bengaluru has 325,000 active Covid-19 cases, with demand for ICU and high-dependency unit (HDU) beds up more than 20 fold, said Mr HM Prasanna, president of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association in Karnataka state, which includes Bengaluru.

"Every patient coming to the hospital needs a ICU or a HDU bed... that is why patients are running from one hospital to another searching for an ICU bed," he said.

"There is also short supply of medical oxygen...Most of the small hospitals now who can't procure oxygen on a daily basis are refusing to admit Covid patients."

Several Indian states have imposed various levels of social restrictions to try to stem infections, but the federal government has resisted imposing a national lockdown.

New Delhi's ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws have become makeshift ambulances to ferry Covid-19 patients.

"We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation," said autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar, who wears a protection suit when driving. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.

"If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?"

Several Indian states have imposed various levels of social restrictions to try to stem infections, but the federal government has resisted imposing a national lockdown.

"At times like this, people look for some sign that politicians are listening... what is happening today is a betrayal of hope and a slap in the face of the dream that was a modern progressive India," columnist Vir Sanghvi wrote in the Hindustan Times.

"We will beat Covid eventually. But by then thousands more will have lost their lives."

Aid from foreign countries continued to pour in, as consignments from Poland, Netherlands and Switzerland reached India on Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Mr Arindam Bagchi said on Twitter.

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