India’s coronavirus deaths exceed 200,000 after record surge in cases

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NEW DELHI, April 28 (Reuters) – India’s toll from the coronavirus surged past 200,000 on Wednesday, the country’s deadliest day yet, as shortages of oxygen, medical supplies and hospital staff compounded a record number of new infections.

The second wave of infections has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week, overwhelming healthcare facilities and crematoriums and driving an increasingly urgent international response.

The last 24 hours brought 360,960 new cases for the world’s largest single-day total, taking India’s tally of infections to nearly 18 million. It was also the deadliest day so far, with 3,293 fatalities carrying the toll to 201,187.

Experts believe the official tally vastly underestimates the actual toll in a nation of 1.3 billion, however.

The world is entering a critical phase of the pandemic and needs to have vaccinations available for all adults as soon as possible, said Udaya Regmi, South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“This is both an ethical and public health imperative,” he added. “As variants keep spreading, this pandemic is far from over until the whole world is safe.”

Ambulances lined up for hours in the capital, New Delhi, to take COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows of funeral pyres.

Coronavirus sufferers, many struggling for breath, flocked to a Sikh temple on the city’s outskirts, hoping to secure some of its limited supplies of oxygen.

Hospitals in and around the capital said oxygen remained scarce, despite commitments to step up supplies.

“We spend the day lowering oxygen levels on our ventilators and other devices as our tanks show alarmingly dipping levels,” Dr Devlina Chakravarty, of the Artemis hospital in the suburb of Gurgaon, wrote in the Times of India newspaper.

“We make hundreds of calls and send messages every day to get our daily quota of oxygen.”

The Mayom Hospital nearby has stopped new admissions unless patients brought oxygen cylinders or concentrators with them, its chief executive, Manish Prakash, told television channel NDTV.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said people were falling sick more severely and for longer, stacking up the pressure.

“The current wave is particularly dangerous,” he said.

“It is supremely contagious and those who are contracting it are not able to recover as swiftly. In these conditions, intensive care wards are in great demand.”

SUPPLIES INCOMING

Supplies arriving in New Delhi included ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain, with more sent from Australia, Germany and Ireland.

“First shipment of oxygen generators from #Taiwan to #India is leaving this week,” Kolas Yotaka, a spokeswoman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, said on Twitter. “We are all in this together.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed $10 million, adding on Twitter, “We stand ready to donate extra medical supplies, too.”

Credit rating agency S&P Global said India’s second wave of infections could impede its economic recovery and expose other nations to further waves of outbreaks.

The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, was susceptible to contagion from the highly infectious variants in India, given the region’s low ratios of vaccination, it added.

Epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee called for much larger lockdowns.

“At this point, lives are so much more important than livelihoods,” the University of Michigan professor said on Twitter. “Provide assistance to the poor, but please lock down and vaccinate.”

U.S. President Joe Biden said he had spoken at length with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues such as when the United States would be able to ship vaccines to the South Asian nation, and added that it was his clear intention to do so.

“I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines, as well as know-how, with other countries who are in real need. That’s the hope and expectation,” he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department’s coordinator for global COVID-19 response, Gayle Smith, warned that India’s challenge called for a sustained effort: “We all need to understand that we are still at the front end of this. This hasn’t peaked yet.”

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta, Neha Arora, Sanjeev Miglani and Anuron Kumar Mitra; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez)

In other areas:

EUROPE

* British enthusiasm for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has faded in the past month, reflecting rising unease about its possible links to rare adverse side effects, though overall UK confidence in vaccines is high, an updated survey has found.

* Portugal’s state of emergency will end on Friday as infections drop sharply and the country prepares to further ease a strict lockdown imposed more than three months ago.

* France’s main COVID-19 indicators all showed some signs of improvement on Tuesday as French President Emmanuel Macron plans to relax restrictions in the next few days.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* South Korea said it will offer some exemptions to mandatory quarantine measures for people who have been fully inoculated against COVID-19, in an effort to encourage more vaccinations.

* Japan’s government plans to spend 500 billion yen ($4.59 billion) from emergency reserves to support businesses hit by measures taken under a state of emergency to fight the pandemic, news agency Kyodo said.

AMERICAS

* The White House is considering options for maximizing global production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines at the lowest cost, including backing a proposed waiver of intellectual property rights, but no decision has been made, press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

* Senior U.S. officials on Tuesday pledged sustained support for India in helping it deal with the world’s worst current surge of COVID-19 infections, warning the country is still at the “front end” of the crisis and overcoming it will take some time.

* Fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without wearing masks, but should use face-coverings in public spaces where they are required, U.S. health regulators and President Joe Biden said.

* The province of Quebec reported Canada’s first death of a patient from a rare blood clot condition after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

* The Biden administration said it was easing travel restrictions on Chinese and other international students into the United States this fall.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Around 250 tour guides from Kenyan national parks lined up in downtown Nairobi to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, as part of a government effort to revive the tourism sector.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed increasing COVID-19 vaccine production in a virtual meeting on Tuesday with an executive with drugmaker Novavax, Tai’s office said in a statement.

* The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not found a link between heart inflammation and COVID-19 vaccines, the agency’s Director Rochelle Walensky said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* U.S. consumer confidence jumped to a 14-month high in April as increased vaccinations against COVID-19 and additional fiscal stimulus allowed for more services businesses to reopen, boosting demand and hiring by companies.

(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Devika Syamnath and Anita Kobylinska; Edited by Arun Koyyur and Shounak Dasgupta)

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