India has reported 314,835 new coronavirus cases over the previous 24 hours, the highest number of infections recorded in a single day in any country since the start of the pandemic, as the country’s hospitals are pushed to the brink of collapse.
The unprecedented spread of the virus, blamed on a more contagious strain as well as lax safety measures, has overwhelmed hospitals, creating severe shortages of beds, oxygen and medicines in major cities. Social media is flooded with desperate pleas from people whose relatives are sick but have been repeatedly turned away from hospitals.
Hospitals have warned they cannot cope with the demand, with some announcing that they have just a few hours’ supply of oxygen left.
“Covid-19 has become a public health crisis in India leading to a collapse of the healthcare system,” Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor at the division of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina in the US, said on Twitter.
In Maharashtra state in western India, at least 24 Covid-19 patients died on Wednesday when the oxygen supply to their ventilators ran out due to a leak. The state tightened its lockdown late on Wednesday night, announcing that travel by private vehicles would be permitted only for medical emergencies, and that only health workers and government employees may use the train system.
A total of 2,104 deaths were registered on Wednesday, a record high for India. More than 1 million cases have been recorded in the past four days.
Among the dead was the Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, to whom the prime minister, Narendra Modi, paid tribute, writing on Twitter: “He will be remembered for his insightful knowledge on matters of theology and spirituality. He was also passionate about community service and social empowerment.”
Some of India’s most prominent politicians have become sick, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was admitted to hospital this week after testing positive, despite having been vaccinated.
It was confirmed on Thursday that the former Delhi minister Dr Ashok Kumar Walia had died. Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India, also announced that his son Ashish had died. He thanked “all those who gave us hope and who treated him – doctors, nurses, frontline health workers, sanitation workers and innumerable others who stood by us.”
Since the start of the pandemic, India has recorded 15.93 million cases, according to health ministry data.
Prior to Thursday, the record for the highest number of daily cases registered anywhere in the world was 300,310, set by the US on 2 January. Its infections have now fallen significantly, and almost four in 10 people have received one vaccine dose, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data project, which is tracking data related to the pandemic.
“We never thought a second wave would hit us so hard,” Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the executive chairman of Biocon & Biocon Biologics, an Indian healthcare firm, wrote in the Economic Times.
“Complacency led to unanticipated shortages of medicines, medical supplies and hospital beds.”
Health experts say the country relaxed safety measures too quickly, wrongly assuming the virus had disappeared. Weddings and huge festivals were allowed to go ahead, while Modi addressed packed political rallies for local elections.
India has so far administered nearly 130 million doses of vaccine, the most in the world after the US and China. Yet, with a population of 1.38 billion, this still means only 8% of people received at least one vaccine.
The government had planned to offer vaccines, which are currently offered to frontline workers and people aged 45, to all adults from next month. However, supplies are running low in many states, and the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures the AstraZeneca vaccine, has downgraded its production forecasts. It had planned to raise its monthly output to 100m doses from the current 60m-70m late in May, but now expects this will not be possible until July.