NEW DELHI: India’s coronavirus infections increased by 346,786 overnight, the ministry of health said on Saturday, setting a new world record for the third consecutive day, as crowded hospitals in the densely populated country begged for supplies of oxygen.
India is in the grip of a second violent wave of the pandemic, reaching a death rate of COVID-19 every four minutes in Delhi, while the capital’s underfunded health system fails.
The government has deployed military planes and trains to take oxygen from the most distant corners of the country to Delhi. Television showed an oxygen truck arriving at Batra hospital in Delhi after issuing an SOS saying it had 90 minutes of oxygen remaining for its 260 patients.
“Please help us get oxygen, there will be a tragedy here,” Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a conference on Friday.
The crisis is also being felt in other parts of the country, with several hospitals issuing public warnings that they do not have medical oxygen. Local media reported new cases of people dying in the cities of Jaipur and Amritsar due to gas shortages.
India surpassed the US record of 297,430 infections in a single day anywhere in the world on Thursday, becoming the global epicenter of a pandemic that is declining in many other countries. The Indian government itself had declared that it had beaten the coronavirus in February, when the new cases fell to historic lows.
However, COVID-19 deaths across India have increased by 2,624 in the past 24 hours, the highest daily rate for the country so far. The crematoriums in Delhi said they were overbooked and asked bereaved families to wait.
The country of about 1.3 billion has already recorded a total of 16.6 million cases, including 189,544 deaths.
Health experts said India became complacent in the winter, when new cases happened at around 10,000 a day and appeared to be under control, lifting restrictions that allowed large meetings to resume.
Others said it could also be a more dangerous variant of the virus that crosses the world’s second most populous country, where people live nearby, often six per room.
“While complacency in adhering to masks and physical distance may have played a role, it seems more and more likely that this second wave was fueled by a much more virulent strain,” wrote Vikram Patel, Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, at the Indian Express.
WHO emergency director Mike Ryan said that reducing transmission in India would be a “very difficult task”, but the government was working to limit the mix between people, which he said was essential.