2:10 PM PDT, April 27, 2021
India’s COVID-19 scourge has pushed the country to the brink of collapse with the infected dropping dead while standing in line for medical treatment, hospitals closing because oxygen supplies have run out, and millions afflicted with the virus amid the world’s worst outbreak.
Doctors and panicked residents have taken to social media to beg for help as evidence mounts that the current death toll of roughly 200,000 is much, much higher — perhaps by as much as 30%, medical experts said.
More than 300,000 new cases were reported Tuesday in the country that is home to 1.4 billion people. More than 17 million are infected, a record rate that encompasses half of the world’s coronavirus patients. Makeshift pyres dot the landscape in New Delhi as crematoriums are overwhelmed with bodies.
In Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, the infection rate among those tested was 50%, medical authorities said.
In one city, the chimney of a cremation facility began to melt after operating around the clock for days.
Hospitals continue to close because there are no vaccines or oxygen for patients. The situation is “beyond crisis point,” Dr. Zarir Udwadia, a government consultant who works in Mumbai hospitals, told the BBC Tuesday.
“It is really clear to me, as it is to any physician, that this wave, perhaps variant-driven, is far more infectious and probably far more lethal than the first wave,” he said.
The rapidly escalating number of recent patients may be the result of a even deadlier variant of the virus that has recently emerged, health officials said.
Reports from around the world’s second most-populous country depict gasping sufferers dying while awaiting treatment and nurses pounding on the lungs of hospitalized patients to help them breathe because oxygen supplies have dipped perilously low.
Even as international aid and train loads of oxygen tanks began arriving this week, physicians called the shipments “a drop in the ocean.”
In a country subject to poverty, overcrowding and an overtaxed health system, only 10% of of the population is estimated to have received a single dose of the vaccine. Fury spread in the capital of New Delhi this week after authorities ordered the conversion of a luxury hotel into a COVID-19 treatment center for high-ranking judges and their family.
“‘This virus has a country of 1.4 billion firmly in its stranglehold and it’s really exposed our threadbare health care system and our failure of leadership,” said Udwadia , the Mumbai physician.
“We let down our collective guard, and we were urged to by our leaders. Instead of being asked to be vigilant, we heard self-congratulatory declarations of victory,” he said, referring to congratulatory statements by politicians, including India’s president, that cases were subsiding and the virus would soon be eradicated.
Vaccine shortages and limited government spending on the epidemic have been blamed for the virus’ resurgence, as well as the emerging variant strain of COVID-19.
“‘We thought we had won, because luck seemed to be conquering the first wave and all of that has been exposed as mere self-assured hubris,” said the doctor.