NEW DELHI: India’s coronavirus death toll shot past 200,000 Wednesday as a relentless wave of new cases swamped hospitals and sent desperate families out into the streets of the capital in search of oxygen supplies and medicine.
Infection and death rates are soaring in the vast country of 1.3 billion people, in contrast with the United States and some European nations which are taking tentative steps back towards normal life.
The virus has now killed more than 3.1 million people worldwide, with India driving the latest surge, recording 360,000 new infections — a global record — and more than 3,000 deaths on Wednesday. Offering a glimmer hope, the co-founder of BioNTech — which developed a Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer — said he is confident the shot works against the variant that is plaguing India.
In the capital New Delhi, car parks have been converted to crematoriums and the soaring body count has sparked a shortage of wood for funeral pyres.
Desperate relatives of the sick are crowding outside hospitals and pharmacies in search of treatment and medicines, often in vain.
Arriving in cars, rickshaws and ambulances, patients and their families desperate for oxygen flocked to a tent outside a Sikh place of worship on the outskirts of the capital this week.
Despite the rising cases, on Tuesday around 25,000 people took part in the final bathing day at the Kumbh Mela religious gathering in the northern town of Haridwar, drawn to the banks of the Ganges by an “auspicious” full moon, festival official Harbeer Singh told AFP. The gathering has attracted millions of pilgrims, mostly without masks, sparking criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government for allowing it to go ahead.
Many nations have rushed to help, sending desperately needed oxygen and aid.
As part of the global effort, Singapore said Wednesday it had sent two plane-loads of oxygen supplies, and Germany will deliver 120 ventilators and plans to set up oxygen production. Russia said it was sending emergency help to the country — including oxygen support, ventilators and medicine — while Switzerland was sending $1 million (827,000 euros) in aid for hospitals. India also appears to be a leading contender for some of the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses the United States has said it will export.
And Ugur Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech, said the vaccine his company jointly developed with Pfizer appears to protect against the Indian variant. “We are still testing the Indian variant, but the Indian variant has mutations that we have already tested for and which our vaccine works against, so I am confident,” said Sahin.
The lifting of measures follow similar moves in Italy, Portugal and Switzerland that have recently peeled back restrictions — even as governments scramble to roll out much-needed vaccines. The European Union is eager to speed up its sluggish immunisation drive after it sued the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca for allegedly breaking their purchase agreement.
The EU and the pharmaceutical giant are set to meet in court on May 26, a Belgian court said Wednesday.