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Friday, April 16, 2021, 13:18
Rising tide of infections swamps India's hospitals
By ​Aparajit Chakraborty in New Delhi
Friday, April 16, 2021, 13:18 By ​Aparajit Chakraborty in New Delhi

A patient arrives at a COVID-19 dedicated hospital in Ahmedabad, India, April 15, 2021. (AJIT SOLANKI / AP)

India is struggling to cope with a surge in coronavirus infections, logging a record 200,000 new cases on Thursday.

With many hospitals reporting severe shortages of beds and oxygen supplies, India this week overtook Brazil as the country with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases-behind only the United States. More than 14 million Indians have been infected, health ministry data shows.

The western state of Maharashtra, home to the nation's commercial capital Mumbai, has been the biggest contributor to the surge.

Hospitals in Maharashtra, as well as other regions including Gujarat and Delhi in the north, reported chaotic scenes as healthcare facilities were overwhelmed with a tide of COVID-19 admissions

Hospitals in Maharashtra, as well as other regions including Gujarat and Delhi in the north, reported chaotic scenes as healthcare facilities were overwhelmed with a tide of COVID-19 admissions.

"The situation is horrible. We are a 900-bed hospital, but there are about 60 patients waiting and we don't have space for them," said Avinash Gawande, an official at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur, a commercial hub in Maharashtra.

ALSO READ: India's virus cases, deaths surge as migrants start to flee cities

Hospitals in other places including Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, reported oxygen shortages. "If such conditions persist, the death toll will rise," the head of a medical body in Ahmedabad wrote in a letter to Gujarat state's chief minister.

India's government said the country has been producing oxygen at full capacity for the past two days, and has acted to boost output.

Compounding the problem are the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims massing for a religious festival in the country's north on Wednesday, stoking fears of yet more infections in the region.

In the capital New Delhi, daily COVID-19 cases are hitting fresh records, with doctors warning the consequences could be deadlier than in 2020.

The country has reported 173,123 deaths as of Thursday.

"This virus is more infectious and virulent. ... We have 35-year-olds with pneumonia in intensive care, which was not happening last year," said Dhiren Gupta, a pediatrician at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi. "The situation is chaotic."

Complacency to blame

Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that one of the major reasons for the surge in infections is people's complacency.

READ MORE: India's daily virus cases rise to record for 5th time this week

Experts also pointed to people's growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces, including public gatherings.

"I would consider the lack of awareness and commitment to wearing masks and practicing physical distancing as the main factors behind this surge. Along with it, the slow pace of vaccinations is another factor," said Sezan Mahmud, a health and public health specialist now working as a professor of medicine at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in the United States.

Considering India's huge population and the surge in new cases, Mahmud said India could surpass the US in the COVID-19 tally if the transmissions are not controlled.

Bringing crowds together are campaigning for elections in five states. Opposition parties have criticized Modi for calling polls in the states while virus cases rise at an alarming rate.

A health ministry official voiced concern over the lack of social distancing at campaign rallies.

India has intensified its vaccination drive in recent weeks, with over 3 million jabs a day dispensed.

The country has launched the third phase of its vaccination drive, with those older than 45 now eligible for a jab. Healthcare workers and people aged of 60 had been given priority.

Agencies contributed to this story.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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