MUMBAI: India is to recruit hundreds of former army medics to support its overwhelmed healthcare system, the defence ministry said on Sunday (May 9), as the country grapples with record COVID-19 infections and deaths amid angry calls for a complete nationwide lockdown.
About 400 medical officers are expected to serve on contract for a maximum of 11 months, the ministry said in a press release, adding that other defence doctors had also been roped in for online consultations.
India's health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.
India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher.
Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) called for a "complete, well-planned, pre-announced" lockdown instead of "sporadic" night curfews and restrictions imposed by states for a few days at a time.
"IMA is astonished to see the extreme lethargy and inappropriate actions from the ministry of health in combating the agonizing crisis born out of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic," it said in a statement on Saturday.
Modi is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies over the past two months even as COVID-19 cases were surging.
PACE OF VACCINATION DROPS
The pace of administering COVID-19 vaccines has dropped since the country opened vaccinations to all adults this month, with states saying they only have limited stock to give out.
At its peak in early April, India was administering a record high of 3.5 million shots a day on average.
However, this number has consistently shrunk since, reaching an average of 1.3 million shots a day over the past week.
READ: Battling COVID-19, and government denial, in rural India
Between Apr 6 and May 6, daily doses have dropped by 38 per cent, even as cases have tripled and deaths have jumped sixfold, according to Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking India’s epidemic.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187 fatalities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.