New infections at record for fifth day
India ordered its armed forces yesterday to help tackle surging new coronavirus infections that are overwhelming hospitals, as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said oxygen would be released to hospitals from armed forces reserves and retired medical military personnel would join Covid-19 health facilities.
And where possible, military medical infrastructure will be made available to civilians, a government statement said, as new coronavirus infections hit a record peak for a fifth day.
"Air, Rail, Road & Sea; Heaven & earth are being moved to overcome challenges thrown up by this wave of Covid-19," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter.
Modi on Sunday urged all citizens to get vaccinated and to exercise caution amid what he called a "storm" of infections, while hospitals and doctors in some northern states posted urgent notices saying they were unable to cope with the influx.
In some of the worst-hit cities, bodies were being burnt in makeshift facilities offering mass cremations.
The southern state of Karnataka, home to the tech city of Bengaluru, ordered a 14-day lockdown from today, joining the western industrial state of Maharashtra, where lockdowns run until May 1, although some states were also set to lift lockdown measures this week.
The patchy curbs, complicated by local elections and mass festival gatherings, could prompt breakouts elsewhere, as infections rose by 352,991 in the last 24 hours, with crowded hospitals running out of oxygen supplies and beds.
Following a fire at a hospital in the western diamond industry hub of Surat, five Covid-19 patients died after being moved to other hospitals that lacked space in their intensive care units, a municipal official told Reuters.
Television channel NDTV broadcast images of three health workers in the eastern state of Bihar pulling a body along the ground on its way to cremation, as stretchers ran short.
On Sunday, President Joe Biden said the United States would send raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear. Germany joined a growing list of countries pledging supplies.
In Moscow, which expects 50 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to be made each month in India this summer, a Kremlin spokesman expressed concern over the situation.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion, has an official tally of 17.31 million infections and 195,123 deaths, after 2,812 deaths overnight, health ministry data showed, although health experts say the figures probably run higher.
The surge in infections hit oil prices amid worries about a fall in fuel demand in the world's third-biggest oil importer.
Several cities have ordered curfews, while police enforce social distancing and mask-wearing. Politicians, especially Modi, have faced criticism for holding rallies during state election campaigns that draw thousands into packed stadiums.
Modi's plea on vaccinations came after inoculations peaked at 4.5 million doses on April 5, but have since averaged about 2.7 million a day, government figures show.
Virologists said more infectious variants of the virus, including an Indian one, have fuelled the resurgence.
The government told people to stay indoors and follow hygiene protocols. "Please don't invite people into your home... It has become clearer that the transmissibility of this virus is faster," said senior health official Vinod Kumar Paul.
Vaccine demand has outpaced supply as the inoculation campaign widened this month, while companies struggle to boost output, partly because of a shortage of raw material and a fire at a facility making the AstraZeneca dose.
However, the federal government will not import vaccines itself but expects states and companies to do so instead, in a step aimed at backing domestic manufacturers, two government officials told Reuters.