India recorded more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus infection Tuesday as a grim surge of illness and death weighed on the country and its sinking health system started getting much-needed support from foreign nations.
Tuesday’s 323,144 new infections raised India’s total past 17.6 million, behind only the United States. It ended a five-day streak of recording the largest single-day increases in any country throughout the pandemic, but the decline likely reflects lower weekend testing rather than reduced spread of the virus.
The health ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths in the past 24 hours, with roughly 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. The latest fatalities pushed India’s fatalities to 197,894, behind the U.S., Brazil and Mexico. Experts say even these figures are probably an undercount.
Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos Tuesday of the first shipment of medical aid India received from Britain. It included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators.
Other nations like the U.S., Germany, Israel, France and Pakistan have also promised medical aid to India. The countries have said they will supply oxygen, diagnostic tests, treatments, ventilators and protective gear to help India at the time of crisis which World Health Organization’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called “beyond heartbreaking.”
The surge, spurred by insidious new variants of coronavirus, has undermined the Indian government’s premature claims of victory over the pandemic. The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is facing a chronic shortage of space on its intensive care wards. Hospitals are experiencing oxygen shortages and many people are being forced to turn to makeshift facilities for mass burials and cremations as the country’s funeral services have become overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, in a bid to tackle the shortage of beds, Indian authorities are turning to train carriages, which have been converted into isolation wards. India has also started airlifting oxygen tankers to states in need. Special trains with oxygen supplies are also running in the country.
The White House was moving to share raw materials for the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine with India by diverting some U.S. orders to the vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told The Associated Press that the Biden administration was working to satisfy other “key requests” from the Indian government, namely for personal protective equipment, tests, therapeutics and supplies of oxygen and respiratory assistance devices.
Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also expected to soon travel to India to assist with its virus response.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Philippine officials are assessing whether to extend a monthlong lockdown in the Manila region amid a grim spike in cases or relax it to fight a recession, joblessness and hunger. The country has recorded more than 1 million cases, including more than 16,800 deaths. A spike last month prompted President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to reimpose a lockdown in the Manila region, where several hospitals reported being overwhelmed. Cabinet officials and medical experts are to meet Tuesday to recommend whether to continue the lockdown, and Duterte may announce the decision Wednesday.
— Australia will halt flights from India for two weeks due to its virus surge. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced that Australia will give India 509 ventilators and 100 oxygen concentrators with tanks as well as personal protection equipment to help the nation deal with its health crisis. Morrison said further aid would follow. Morrison announced last week plans to reduce the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Indian by 30%. But the number of travelers testing positive to coronavirus in Australian hotel quarantine had jumped from 90 to 143 in a week, Morrison said. He said a decision would be made before May 15 on whether flights from India would resume.