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India’s brutal new COVID outbreak broke records with more than 2,000 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday due to dangerously low oxygen availability in hospitals in New Delhi.
India was in a second wave of infections due to lax government rules and a new “double mutant” virus variant, adding nearly 3.5 million new cases this month alone.
The Department of Health’s data on Wednesday showed a record 2,023 deaths and 295,000 new cases in 24 hours, below the world’s largest daily case numbers and on par with the numbers seen in the US during a fatal surge in January.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country, with 1.3 billion people, “is once again fighting a great struggle”.
“The situation was under control until a few weeks ago, and then that second corona wave came like a storm,” he said.
It was hoped that, despite its overcrowded cities and poor health care, India had managed to avoid a pandemic that killed more than three million people worldwide, largely unharmed.
Mass gatherings have been held in recent weeks, including millions attending the Kumbh Mela religious festival, political rallies, and lavish weddings and cricket games against England.
Some factories have slowed or even stopped production of key coronavirus drugs, and there have been delays which, according to press reports, led to offers for oxygen-generating equipment.
Troubled relatives are now forced to pay exorbitant prices for drugs and oxygen on the black market, and WhatsApp groups are full of desperate requests for help.
“I am more afraid for my parents and relatives than I am because they are no longer young and it is next to impossible to be hospitalized now,” a Delhi resident told AFP.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who self-isolated on Tuesday after his wife tested positive, tweeted late Tuesday that some hospitals in the capital “have only a few hours of oxygen left”.
The health minister of the megacity with around 25 million inhabitants, Satyendar Jain, called on the federal government to “restore the oxygen supply chain in order to avert a major crisis”.
Hospitals in the western state of Maharashtra and in the capital Mumbai, the epicenter of the boom, were also affected by a serious shortage, according to press reports.
“Ordinarily we would move some patients to other hospitals … no one in town has left oxygen,” NDTV quoted a doctor in the state as saying.
“The (central government), states and the private sector are trying to ensure that every patient in need receives oxygen,” Modi said in his address.
States across India have imposed restrictions as Delhi is closed for a week and all non-essential businesses in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are closed for a weekend.
The lockdown of Delhi caused tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee the megacity in scenes reminiscent of the national shutdown a year ago that caused economic and human misery.
The United States is now advising against traveling to India, even for those who are fully vaccinated, while Britain has put India on its “red list”. Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned flights.
India has fired more than 130 million shots to date and as of May 1, all adults will be eligible for one shot.
However, some local authorities are running out of supplies and India has curbed exports of the AstraZeneca shot.
“I think we will have a more quantitative estimate and possibly impact of this variant on the vaccine in the next week or two,” Rakesh Mishra of the Center for Cell and Molecular Biology told AFP.
Overall, India has had 15.6 million cases, second only to the US, and more than 180,000 deaths, though it lags behind many countries per capita.
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