BENGALURU: India's new coronavirus infections hit a record peak for a fifth day on Monday (Apr 26), as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid to help battle the crisis overwhelming its hospitals.
With 352,991 new cases, India's total caseload has crossed 17 million.
Deaths rose by a record 2,812 to reach a total of 195,123, with overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere turning away patients after running out of supplies of medical oxygen and beds.
"Currently the hospital is in beg-and-borrow mode and it is an extreme crisis situation," said a spokesman of the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the capital.
The southern state of Karnataka, home to the tech city of Bengaluru, ordered a 14-day lockdown from Tuesday, joining the western industrial state of Maharashtra, where lockdowns run until May 1, although some states were set to lift the measures this week.
But the patchy curbs, complicated by local elections and mass festival gatherings, could prompt breakouts elsewhere.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution, while hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices saying they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.
In some of the worst-hit cities, such as New Delhi, bodies were being burnt in makeshift facilities offering mass cremations.
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.
"If you've never been to a cremation, the smell of death never leaves you," Vipin Narang, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
"My heart breaks for all my friends and family in Delhi and India going through this hell."
The European Commission has also said it aims to send oxygen and medicines to India after receiving a request from Delhi.
Politicians, especially Modi, have faced criticism for holding rallies during state election campaigns that draw thousands, packed into stadiums and grounds.
About 8.6 million voters were expected to cast ballots on Monday in the eastern state of West Bengal, in the final phases of a contest set to wrap up this week.
Also voting in local elections was the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which has been reporting an average of 30,000 infections a day.
Modi's plea on vaccinations came after inoculations peaked at 4.5 million doses on Apr 5, but have since averaged about 2.7 million a day, government figures show.
Maharashtra was among several states that halted vaccinations in some places on Sunday for lack of supply.
"I don’t know when my turn will come," said 68-year old Shubhada Pendse, who was one of more than 1,000 people who had flocked to a vaccination centre in the state's town of Satara hours before it re-opened on Monday after a two-day gap.
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.
Hospitals in Modi's western home state of Gujarat also face an acute shortage of oxygen, doctors said.
Just seven ICU beds of a total of 1,277 were available in 166 private hospitals designated to treat the virus in the state's largest city of Ahmedabad, data showed.
"The problem is grim everywhere, especially in smaller hospitals, which do not have central oxygen lines," said Mona Desai, former president of the Ahmedabad Medical Association.
Neighbouring Bangladesh sealed its border with India for 14 days, its foreign ministry said, though trade will continue. Air travel has been suspended since Bangladesh imposed a lockdown on Apr 14 to combat record infections and deaths.