India: Covid death toll crosses 200,000 as healthcare system collapses

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India is currently going through a devastating wave of the coronavirus that has taken more than 200,000 lives, the second-highest death toll in the world following the United States. The pressures on many hospitals show no signs of abating as the surge of new infections rise through major cities and dense areas of the country. The healthcare system has been battered to the verge of collapse as the country is experiencing an untimely shortage of hospital beds, medical oxygen, ventilators and other essential supplies.

A calamitous second of the deadly coronavirus has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past seven days, the highest infection toll in the world since the start of the pandemic. The death toll has remained well above 2,000 and it crossed the grim milestone of 200,000 on Wednesday. With the healthcare system overwhelmed and the testing facilities inadequate, it is suspected that the actual infection and death toll is higher.

The Indian health ministry of Wednesday recorded 361,000 new cases of the coronavirus – a new world record – taking India’s tally of infection to 18 million. Wednesday was also the deadliest day so far, with 3,300 fatalities.

India, home to 1.4 billion people, is the fourth country to cross the grim 200,000 death milestone behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico. Like in many nations, experts believe that the reported cases in India are vastly undercount as the number of unreported infections and deaths could be much higher.

What is happening in India?

India, the second-most populous country in the world, is going through a deadly second wave of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization has said that this second wave was caused by mass gatherings, low vaccination rates and more contagious variants of the coronavirus. WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević said on Tuesday that the new virus variant is not the sole cause of the recent events in India, but the complacent public behaviour had also played a role.

“The extent to which these virus changes are responsible for the rapid increase in cases in the country remains unclear, as there are other factors such as recent large gatherings that may have contributed to the rise,” said Jašarević.

The new Covid-19 variant – called B1617 – differs from the original virus due to two genetic mutations. It is relatively more contagious and deadly than other variants of the virus.

Health experts say that the huge gatherings during the Hindu festivals and mammoth election rallies – many of them organized by the ruling party and attended by Prime Minister Modi – have accelerated the unprecedented Covid surge India is going through now. They also say that the government’s premature declarations of victory over the virus encouraged the people to relax when they should have strictly followed all the necessary precautions.

Healthcare system overwhelmed; crematoriums running out of wood

Hospitalizations and deaths have reached a record high in India in the past couple of days. Healthcare workers are experiencing a crushing burn out as the country faces a shortage of essential medical supplies. Patients are suffocating as the hospitals’ oxygen supplies have run out. The underfunded healthcare system as the verge of collapse – hospitals are scrambling for beds, oxygen cylinders, ventilators and ambulances as the families of the patients marshal their resources by sending SOS messages on social media.

Crematoriums in India have been working around the clock for the past week. The crematoriums have run out of space to burn the dead and are now spilling to parks and other empty places. In the capital New Delhi, the workers have been forced to build makeshift cremation pyres and the authorities have cut down trees in city parks to provide wood for the ritual. Viral videos on social media show arrays of cremation pyres engulfed in flames as the night sky lights up. In many major hotspots of the virus, the authorities are now skipping individual cremations and resorting to mass cremations where tens of bodies are lined up and burned simultaneously.

Graveyards are also running out of space as more and more dead bodies continue to arrive for burial. Gravediggers and burial workers are exhausted as they have to bury dozens of bodies every day.

The world responds

The harrowing scenes of death and destruction have alarmed the world and many have come to the conclusion that the outbreak is not just a crisis for India, but for the entire world. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us one thing – despite all the travel restrictions, tests, quarantine and other health measures, the virus can still leak and spread out to the rest of the world. On a recent flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong, more than 50 passengers tested positive for the Indian variant of the coronavirus.

There is also another concern over the high infectious rates in India: the emergence of new variants. The higher the number of cases a country has, the more likely it is to develop a new variant of the virus. It is still not clear how much the vaccines in production are efficacious against the new variants. The world does not want a new deadly outbreak.

With all these concerns in mind, the world has responded to India’s coronavirus outbreak. Countries around the world have promised to deliver aid to India during the hard times. On Wednesday, Russia announced that it will send 75 ventilators, 20 oxygen generating plants and 200,000 medications to India. The Czech Republic also announced that it will send 500 oxygen cylinder and the United Kingdom foreign secretary said that UK will send three container-sized oxygen factories. Edhi foundation – a non-profit social welfare organization based in Pakistan – also requested Prime Minister Modi to allow them to send 50 ambulances and medics to India to help in times of crisis.

The United States has also pledged aid to India. The Biden administration and the Department of Defense will deploy supplies to support India, including ventilators, rapid diagnostic test kits, personal protective equipment and therapeutics. Tech giants Microsoft and Google have also offered support to India, including funding for medical supplies such as oxygen and concentration devices.


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