India under siege from COVID-19, hospitals overwhelmed

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reported a record daily increase of coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Sunday, exacerbating shortages of oxygen supplies and hospital beds in some of the worst-hit cities of the country.

India reported 261,500 new cases, taking the total caseload to nearly 14.8 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.

India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,501 to reach a total of 177,150, the data showed.

India, hit by the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, is grappling with a severe shortage of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and critical medicines such as the anti-viral drug Remdesivir.

Concerned over a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last night asked authorities to pull out all the stops to ramp up the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

Modi also reviewed his administration’s overall preparedness and stressed the need to ensure the availability of hospital beds and the supplies of oxygen and ventilators. He also asked his team to work closely with local governments, especially the 12 states ravaged by a surge in coronavirus cases.

But opposition parties, including the Congress party, criticised Modi for addressing large election rallies to help his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the state assembly election in the eastern state of West Bengal.

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Addressing a large gathering of his supporters in West Bengal on Saturday, Modi said: “I can see a sea of masses. I haven’t seen a rally like this.”

The Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, which is in power in the capital, New Delhi, mocked Modi’s political rallies by posting pictures on social media of funeral pyres at overburdened crematoriums of the city.

“The delight of the PM (prime minister) at the sight of a large crowd at his election meeting in Asansol (West Bengal) in Covid times could have come only from a person who is completely insensitive,” Yashwant Sinha, a former cabinet minister who broke away from the BJP, said on Twitter. “I deplore his remarks.”

Stung by the shortages of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders, people used Twitter to seek help and post pictures of overwhelmed hospitals.

On Saturday, New Delhi recorded 24,000 coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, and its Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal warned about a chronic shortage of hospital beds.

Separately, last night at least five coronavirus patients died in a hospital fire in Raipur, the capital of the central state of Chhattisgarh.

The rest of the patients had been evacuated to other coronavirus facilities, said Tarkeshwar Patel, additional superintendent of police of Raipur.

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