NEW DELHI: India’s brutal new Covid-19 outbreak set records on Wednesday with more than 2,000 deaths in 24 hours, as hospitals in New Delhi ran perilously low on oxygen.
Highlighting the strain on health authorities, 22 patients died in a hospital after an oxygen leak cut off the supply to 60 ventilators for half an hour, officials said.
India has been in the grips of a second wave of infections blamed on lax government rules and a new “double mutant” virus variant, adding almost 3.5 million new cases this month alone.
Health ministry data on Wednesday showed a record 2,023 fatalities and 295,000 new cases in 24 hours, among the world’s biggest daily case totals and on a par with numbers seen in the United States during a deadly surge in January.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country of 1.3 billion people was “once again fighting a big fight”.
“The situation was under control till a few weeks back, and then this second corona wave came like a storm,” he said.
There had been hopes that despite its packed cities and poor health care, India had managed to dodge largely unscathed a pandemic that has killed more than three million people around the world.
Recent weeks have seen mass gatherings, including millions attending the Kumbh Mela religious festival, as well as political rallies, lavish weddings and cricket matches against England.
Production of key coronavirus drugs slowed or even halted at some factories and there were delays inviting bids for oxygen generation plants, according to press reports.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted late Tuesday that some hospitals in the capital “are left with just a few hours of oxygen”.
Oxygen tankers arrived just in time at several hospitals late Tuesday but supplies remained tight and reports said deliveries were being held up in neighbouring Haryana state.
Hospitals in the western state of Maharashtra and its teeming capital Mumbai were also experiencing dire shortages, press reports said.
States across India have imposed restrictions, with Delhi in a week-long lockdown, all non-essential shops shut in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh set for a weekend shutdown.
Delhi’s lockdown prompted tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee the megacity, in scenes reminiscent of the national shutdown a year ago that inflicted economic and human misery.
The United States now advises against travelling to India, even for those fully vaccinated, while Britain has added India to its “red list”. Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned flights.