India shaken by virus ‘storm’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to be vaccinated and exercise caution, saying the "storm" of infections had shaken India, as the country set a new global record of the most number of Covid-19 infections in a day.
The United States said it was deeply concerned by the massive surge in cases in India and would rapidly send aid.
The European Commission has activated its EU Civil Protection Mechanism and is seeking to send oxygen and medicine to India after receiving a request from Delhi.
"Alarmed by the epidemiological situation in India. We are ready to support," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.
Britain said yesterday it was sending life-saving medical equipment to India.
"Vital medical equipment, including hundreds of oxygen concentrators and ventilators, is now on its way from the UK to India to support efforts to prevent the tragic loss of life from this terrible virus," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier yesterday her government was preparing emergency aid for India.
The vast nation of 1.3 billion people recorded 349,691 fresh infections and 2,767 deaths yesterday -- the highest since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitals in Delhi and across the country are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.
"We were confident, our spirits were up after successfully tackling the first wave, but this storm has shaken the nation," Modi said in a radio address.
His government has faced criticism that it let its guard down earlier this year, allowed big religious and political gatherings to take place when India's cases fell to below 10,000 a day and did not plan for boosted healthcare systems.
Hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices saying they are unable to cope with the rush of patients.
Outside a Sikh temple in Ghaziabad city on the outskirts of Delhi, the street resembled an emergency ward of a hospital, but crammed with cars carrying Covid-19 patients gasping for breath as they were hooked up to hand held oxygen tanks.
Elsewhere, people were arranging stretchers and oxygen cylinders outside hospitals as they desperately pleaded for authorities to take patients in, Reuters photographers said.
"Every day, it the same situation, we are left with two hours of oxygen, we only get assurances from the authorities," one doctor said on television.
Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal extended a lockdown in the capital that had been due to end today for a week. Covid-19 is killing one person every four minutes in the city.
Epidemiologists and virologists say more infectious variants of the virus, including an Indian one known as B.22.214.171.124, have fuelled the ferocious surge.
Doctors at New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences have found that one patient is now infecting up to nine in 10 contacts, compared with up to four last year.
Meanwhile, the first case of the Indian variant of Covid-19 has been confirmed in Switzerland, the Federal Office for Public Health (BAG) said, as other countries introduce travel bans to contain its spread.
Greece has also detected a case of the Indian Covid-19 variant, authorities said.
Italy banned arrivals from India, apart from Italian residents, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said yesterday. "We can't let our guard down" ahead of a limited reopening set to begin across Italy today, he added.
India has recorded a total of 16.96 million infections and 192,311 coronavirus deaths, after 2,767 more died overnight, health ministry data showed.
In the last month alone, daily cases have gone up eight times and deaths by 10 times. Health experts say the death count is probably far higher.
"Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific Covid-19 outbreak," US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter.
"We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India's health care heroes."
The United States has faced criticism in India for its export controls on raw materials for vaccines put in place via the Defense Production Act and an associated export embargo in February.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, this month urged President Joe Biden to lift the block on exports of raw materials that is hurting its production of AstraZeneca shots.
Others such as US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release unused vaccines to India.
"When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can't let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they'll save lives," he said.
The surge in India is expected to peak in mid-May with the daily count of infections reaching half a million, the Indian Express said, citing an internal government assessment.
The coronavirus has killed at least 3,101,568 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP yesterday.