NEW DELHI: India posted a global record of almost 315,000 new Covid infections on Thursday as hospitals in New Delhi sent out desperate warnings that patients could die without fresh oxygen supplies.
The country’s long-underfunded healthcare system is being stretched to the limit by a devastating second wave of the pandemic blamed on a “double mutant” variant and “super-spreader” mass gatherings.
Health ministry data on Thursday showed 314,835 new infections in the past 24 hours, the most of any country since the pandemic began, taking total cases to 15.9 million, the world’s second highest.
There were 2,074 fatalities, bringing the total death toll to almost 185,000. The numbers are however considerably lower on a per capita basis than in many other countries, raising fears that the situation could get a lot worse.
Major private and government-run hospitals in New Delhi have sent out urgent appeals to the central government, calling for more oxygen supplies for hundreds of patients on ventilator support.
On Wednesday, nearly 500 tonnes of oxygen was supplied to Delhi but this fell short of the required 700 tonnes per day.
The megacity’s government, run by a different party to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national administration, has accused neighbouring states governed by Modi’s BJP of holding up supplies.
Late Wednesday the Delhi High Court ordered the government to ensure safe passage of oxygen supplies from factories to hospitals across India.
The United States now advises against travel to India, even for those fully vaccinated, while Britain has put India on its “red list”. Hong Kong and New Zealand have banned flights.
Australia on Thursday also tightened restrictions on arrivals from India, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying returnees from there now made up about 40 percent of Covid cases detected in quarantine.
India’s inoculation programme has hit supply hurdles, prompting New Delhi to put the brakes on exports of the AstraZeneca shot, which is manufactured locally by the Serum Institute. India has administered more than 130 million shots so far and from May 1 all adults will be eligible for a jab.