Bodies of victims of COVID-19 lay burning on Tuesday in funeral forests that crowded New Delhi’s sidewalks and parking lots amid an explosion of new cases as foreign aid arrived in growing hot India in efforts to contain the pandemic.
“People are just dying, dying and dying,” said Jitender Singh Shanty, who daily coordinates more than 100 cremations at the site in the east of the city.
“If we get more bodies, then we’ll cremate on the road. There’s no more space here,” he said, adding, “We never thought we’d see such horrible scenes.”
The outbreak of infections in India – only 350,000 new cases were registered there on Tuesday – has caused an increase in global cases to 147.7 million and the virus has now killed more than 3.1 million people worldwide.
‘Those who usually survive also die’
The United States, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, the EU and the World Health Organization have all promised to speed up supplies to India.
A shipment from the UK, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived on Tuesday in the capital New Delhi, while hospitals starved for life-saving oxygen and beds turned away coronavirus patients.
India’s first “Oxygen Express” train has departed for New Delhi, loaded with about 70 tons of oxygen from the eastern state, but the crisis has not diminished in the city of 20 million people at the epicenter of the deadliest wave of infections in the world.
“The current wave is extremely dangerous and contagious and the hospitals are overloaded,” said Delhi Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal, adding that a large public area in the capital will be transformed into a critical hospital.
Despite India’s status as the “pharmacy of the world”, the largest producer of general medicines has not been able to meet the requirement of antiviral drug like remdesivir.
Many doctors say the drug is not essential for the treatment of COVID-19, but hospitals still prescribe it.
“This government has failed us so much that even those who can usually survive die,” said one exhausted man, Vinod Kumar, as he waited in line for medication.
With growing frustration, relatives of a recently deceased COVID-19 patient attacked employees with knives at a hospital in southeast New Delhi, injuring at least one person, a hospital spokeswoman said.
A film posted on social media showed several people clashing with guards at the same hospital. Delhi High Court has advised local authorities to provide security in hospitals.
The World Health Organization said it is working to deliver 4,000 oxygen concentrators to India, and two U.S. drug manufacturers have offered support as vaccine demand exceeds supply.
India is also in talks with the United States, which has said it will share 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine with other countries. A senior official participating in the negotiations said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been assured of priority for India.
Supply uncertainty could force Maharashtra, India’s hardest-hit state, to delay inoculations for people between the ages of 18 and 45, a government official said.
India’s 323,144 new cases over the past 24 hours stood below a world peak of 352,991 hits on Monday, and 2,771 new deaths totaled 197,894.
But the least confirmed infections were largely due to a fall in testing, according to health economist Rijo M John of the Indian Institute of Management in Kerala, a southern state.
“This should not be seen as an indication of falling cases, rather as a matter of losing too many positive cases,” he said on Twitter.
U.S. State Department coordinator for global response to COVID-19, Gayle Smith, warned that India’s challenge will require continued effort: “We all need to understand that we are still at the front end. This has not yet peaked. “
Dr K. Preetham, an administrator of the Indian Spinal Injury Center, said patients there had to split oxygen cylinders due to the lack of oxygen.
New Delhi is blocked, as are the southern states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, where the country’s financial capital Mumbai is located.
An unequal rag of restrictions, complicated by local elections and mass rallies like the week-long Kumbh Mela, or a boat festival, could provoke explosions of COVID-19 elsewhere.
About 20,000 devout Hindus gathered at the river Ganges in the northern city of Haridwar on the last auspicious day of the festival for bathing, which they believe will wash away their sins.
“We believe Mother Ganga will protect us,” said a woman at the riverbank where people were bathing with few signs of physical distance resources.
India has an official estimate of 17.64 million infections, but experts believe the actual number is much higher.
On Tuesday Australia suspended all passenger flight trips with India until at least May 15, leaving a crowd of high-profile cricketers stranded there after playing in the lucrative Indian Super League, which attracted criticism for continuing during the crisis.