India grapples with virus surge | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 19, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:00 AM, April 19, 2021

India grapples with virus surge

Calls grow for more oxygen, beds as rising cases in youth deepen worries

More government hospital beds will be freed for Covid-19 patients, India's health ministry said yesterday, as the vast nation grappled with a worsening virus crisis and states appealed for additional supplies of oxygen and treatment drugs. 

The country of 1.3 billion people added a record-high of 261,500 new cases yesterday, with one-in-six people who underwent tests returning positive coronavirus results, the ministry said.

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At the start of the year, India thought it had beaten the pandemic and had kicked off a mass vaccination drive. Face masks and social distancing were cast aside and huge crowds flocked to religious festivals and election rallies.

But in hospitals, doctors started warning of a rise in cases, including a new phenomenon -- younger patients -- for a disease usually viewed as riskier for older adults.

In a country where around 65 percent of the population is under 35, there is growing concern about the impact on the young.

Amid shortages of beds, the government yesterday said hospitals usually reserved for employees of ministries or public sector companies should convert some of their wards into Covid-19 facilities equipped with ICU and oxygen-supported beds, ventilators, laboratories and healthcare staff.

The railway ministry said special trains would transport oxygen tankers to needy states.

In the capital New Delhi -- the worst-hit city in India -- 25,500 infections were reported in the past 24 hours.

"The cases are rising very fast," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a video statement. "Only 100 beds left. Even oxygen is in short supply."

Kejriwal said additional beds would be set up at some schools and a sport complex.

In West Bengal state, where an election is being held over several phases with rival parties holding huge rallies, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for more oxygen and coronavirus medicines such as remdesivir.

India has administered more than 122 million jabs so far, but the new surge in cases with changes in virus's behavior has alarmed experts.

Kejriwal has said 65 percent of new patients in Delhi are below 45.

India's medical research agency does not have a demographic breakdown of cases, but doctors in major cities confirmed that more young patients are coming to hospitals.

"We are also seeing children under the ages of 12 and 15 being admitted with symptoms in the second wave. Last year there were practically no children," said Khusrav Bajan, a consultant at Mumbai's P.D. Hinduja National Hospital.

In Gujarat state, pulmonologist Amit Dave said young people were experiencing "increased severity" from coronavirus for their lungs, hearts and kidneys.

In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year, data aggregator said. 

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