BENGALURU: India's COVID-19 infections crossed the 18 million mark on Thursday (Apr 29) with almost 380,000 new cases, breaking another world record for new daily infections.
The explosion in infections, blamed in part on a new virus variant as well as mass political and religious events, has overwhelmed hospitals with dire shortages of beds, drugs and oxygen.
According to health ministry data, India reported 379,257 new cases and 3,645 new deaths, taking its total caseload to 18.38 million and fatalities to 204,832. It was the highest number of deaths reported in a single day in India since the start of the pandemic.
This month alone, India has added more than 6 million new cases.
Experts said the country's best hope to curb its second deadly wave of COVID-19 was to vaccinate its vast population. On Wednesday it opened registrations for everyone above the age of 18 to be given jabs from Saturday.
But India, which is one of the world's biggest producers of vaccines, does not have the stocks for the estimated 600 million people becoming eligible.
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Many people who tried to sign up said they failed, complaining on social media that they could not get a slot or they simply could not get online to register as the website repeatedly crashed.
"Statistics indicate that far from crashing or performing slowly, the system is performing without any glitches," the government said in a statement late on Wednesday.
The government said more than 8 million people had registered for the vaccinations, but it was not immediately clear how many had got slots.
About 9 per cent of India's population have received one dose since the vaccination campaign began in January with health workers and then the elderly.
The government's chief scientific advisor K Vijay Raghavan said in an interview with the Indian Express newspaper that the government could have done more to prepare for the second wave.
"There were major efforts by central and state governments in ramping up hospital and healthcare infrastructure during the first wave ... But as that wave declined, so perhaps did the sense of urgency," he said.
But "it is just not possible to amplify the capacities of a public health system within a year to a level that would be sufficient to cope with what we are seeing now", he added.
The crisis is particularly severe in New Delhi, with people dying outside packed hospitals where three people are often forced to share beds.
Delhi is reporting one death from COVID-19 every four minutes and ambulances have been taking the bodies of COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows and rows of funeral pyres.
Ambulances have been taking the bodies of COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows and rows of funeral pyres.
The World Health Organization said in its weekly epidemiological update that India accounted for 38 per cent of the 5.7 million cases reported worldwide to it last week.
Many nations have rushed to help, sending desperately needed oxygen and aid.
"India’s COVID outbreak is a humanitarian crisis," US Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.
"I’m leading a letter to @moderna_tx, @pfizer, and @jnjnews to find out what steps they’re taking to expand global access to their vaccines to save lives and prevent variants from spreading around the world."
Two planes from Russia, carrying 20 oxygen concentrators, 75 ventilators, 150 bedside monitors, and medicines totalling 22 metric tonnes, arrived in the capital Delhi on Thursday.
As part of the global effort, Singapore said Wednesday it had sent two planeloads of oxygen supplies, and Germany will deliver 120 ventilators and plans to set up oxygen production.
Britain also announced Wednesday it was sending three oxygen "factories" the size of containers to India following a first consignment of aid this week.
The United States is sending supplies worth more than US$100 million to India, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, the White House announced on Wednesday. It said the supplies will begin arriving on Thursday.
The United States also has redirected its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the White House.
Taiwan on Thursday said it had bought 150 oxygen concentrators and aimed to send them to India this weekend.
India will receive a first batch of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 on May 1. Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which is marketing Sputnik V globally, has already signed agreements with five leading Indian manufacturers for over 850 million doses of the vaccine a year.
The US State Department issued a travel advisory warning on Wednesday against travel to India because of the pandemic and approved the voluntary departure of family members of US government employees in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for allowing massive political rallies and religious festivals which have been super spreader events in recent weeks.
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More than 8.4 million eligible voters are set to vote on Thursday in the last phase of an eight-part election in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, even as the state witnesses a record rise in coronavirus cases.
"The people of this country are entitled to a full and honest account of what led more than a billion people into a catastrophe," Vikram Patel, The Pershing Square Professor of Global Health in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School said in The Hindu newspaper.
The South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Udaya Regmi, said the world was entering a critical phase of the pandemic and needed to have vaccinations available for all adults as soon as possible.
Early modelling showed that the B1617 variant of the virus detected in India had a higher growth rate than other variants in the country, suggesting increased transmissibility, it said.