The European Union and the United States have pledged to help India as the country battles a devastating surge in infections.
For the fourth day in a row, India on Sunday set a world daily record for new coronavirus infections, fueled by an insidious new variant that emerged here. The increase has undermined the government’s premature claims of victory over the pandemic.
The 349,691 new infections brought India’s total to more than 16.9 million, behind only the United States. The Health Ministry reported another 2,767 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing India’s deaths to 192,311.
The death toll could be a very low count as suspected cases are not included and many COVID-19 deaths are attributed to underlying conditions.
The crisis is exacerbated by oxygen shortages and families are left alone to transport sick people with COVID-19 from one hospital to another in search of treatment.
On social media and in television images, desperate family members beg for oxygen outside hospitals or cry on the street for loved ones who died awaiting treatment.
A woman mourned the death of her 50-year-old younger brother. He was turned away by two hospitals and died awaiting treatment at a third, gasping after his oxygen tank ran out and no replacements were needed.
‘We are ready to support’
In response to the spiraling situation in the Southeast Asian country, the European Union has activated its Civil Protection Mechanism, which is coordinating with member states to send oxygen and medicines quickly.
The head of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she was “alarmed by the epidemiological situation in India. We are ready to support.”
“The EU is gathering resources to respond quickly to India’s request for assistance,” he added.
Chancellor Angela Merkel also said that Germany “stands in solidarity with India and is urgently preparing a support mission.”
“To the people of India I want to express my condolences for the terrible suffering that COVID-19 has brought back to their communities. The fight against the pandemic is our common fight,” he emphasized in a statement.
President Joe Biden said the United States was determined to help. “Just as India sent aid to the United States because our hospitals were overloaded at the beginning of the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” Biden said in a tweet.
The White House said the United States was “working around the clock” to deploy test equipment, ventilators and personal protective equipment, and that it would also seek to provide oxygen supplies. It said it would also make available urgently needed raw material sources to make Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.
‘The virus is swallowing our people’
The unfolding crisis is most visceral in the overwhelmed cemeteries and crematoriums of India, and in heartbreaking images of gasping patients dying on their way to hospitals due to lack of oxygen.
Cemeteries in the capital New Delhi are running out of space. Bright and glowing funeral pyres light up the night sky in other heavily affected cities.
In the central city of Bhopal, some crematoria have increased their capacity from dozens of pyres to more than 50. However, there are still hours of waiting.
At the city’s Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat crematorium, workers said they cremated more than 110 people on Saturday, even as city-wide government figures of 1.8 million put the total number of virus deaths at just 10.
“The virus is swallowing the people of our city like a monster,” said Mamtesh Sharma, a local official.
The unprecedented flood of bodies has forced the crematorium to skip individual ceremonies and exhaustive rituals that Hindus believe free the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
“We are just burning bodies as they arrive,” Sharma said. “It is as if we are in the middle of a war.”
The main gravedigger at New Delhi’s largest Muslim cemetery, where 1,000 people have been buried during the pandemic, said more bodies are arriving now than last year. “I’m afraid we will run out of space very soon,” said Mohammad Shameem.
‘Matter of time’
The situation is equally bleak in unbearably crowded hospitals, where desperate people die in line, sometimes on the streets outside, waiting to see doctors.
Health officials are struggling to expand critical care units and stock up on increasingly scarce oxygen supplies. Hospitals and patients alike are struggling to acquire the scarce medical equipment sold on the black market at an exponential rate.
The drama stands in direct contrast to the government’s claims that “no one in the country was left without oxygen,” in a statement made Saturday by India’s attorney general, Tushar Mehta, before the Delhi High Court.
The collapse is a resounding failure for a country whose prime minister only in January had declared victory over COVID-19 and which boasted of being the “world’s pharmacy”, a global producer of vaccines and a model for other developing nations.
Caught off guard by the latest deadly surge, the federal government has asked industrialists to increase production of oxygen and other life-saving drugs that are in short supply. But health experts say India had a whole year to prepare for the inevitable, and it didn’t.
Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the government should have used the last year, when the virus was most under control, to store drugs and develop systems to face the problem. probability of a new wave.
“Most importantly, they should have looked at what was happening in other parts of the world and understood that it was a matter of time before they found themselves in a similar situation,” Kuppalli said.
Instead, the government’s premature declarations of victory encouraged people to relax when they should have continued with a strict adherence to physical distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large crowds.
Modi trying to stifle criticism
Modi faces mounting criticism for allowing Hindu festivals and attending huge electoral rallies that experts suspect accelerated the spread of infections. At one such rally on April 17, Modi expressed his joy at the large crowd, even as experts warned that a deadly surge was inevitable with India already counting 250,000 new cases daily.
Now, with the death toll rising, his Hindu nationalist government is trying to stifle critical voices.
On Saturday, Twitter complied with the government’s request and blocked people in India from viewing more than 50 tweets that appeared to criticize the administration’s handling of the pandemic. Selected posts include tweets from opposition ministers criticizing Modi, journalists, and ordinary Indians.
A Twitter spokesperson said it had powers to “withhold access to content in India only” if the company determined that the content was “illegal in a particular jurisdiction.” The company said it responded to a government order and notified people whose tweets were withheld.
India’s Information Technology Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Even with the blocks selected, gruesome scenes of overwhelmed hospitals and cremation grounds spread on Twitter and attracted calls for help.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism