The populous nation is in the grip of a terrifying outbreak that spread swiftly through major cities and has overwhelmed the country’s medical infrastructure, sapping supplies like oxygen and leaving little bed space for critical patients.
The case count Thursday surpasses a previous world record set by the United States earlier this year, when more than 313,000 infections were reported on Jan. 8, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. India now has nearly 16 million confirmed cases, second only to the United States, and a death toll of more than 184,000. Its total population is more than 1.3 billion.
The staggering tsunami of new cases has been blamed on more contagious virus variants, a slow-moving vaccination campaign and recent changes in behavior that saw many abandon public health restrictions in recent months.
“Once the cases from the first wave began dropping and reached a low, there had been an overwhelming feeling among the general public that the worst was behind and they were out of danger,” Rijo M. John, a health economist at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kerala, told Reuters.
“It was partly fueled by irresponsible statements from several political leaders, many from the ruling government itself, leading people to inadvertently believe that India had defeated covid-19,” John said.
The devastating wave has led to grim and chaotic scenes of bodies piling up at crematoriums, while patients struggle for beds at crowded coronavirus wards as oxygen supplies run low.
On Wednesday, at least 22 covid-19 patients died at a hospital in the western part of the country after an oxygen tank leaked, disrupting supply.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter Thursday that “oxygen demand & supply is being monitored round the clock.”
On Wednesday, the New Delhi High Court ordered the government to divert oxygen from industrial use to hospitals to ameliorate the crisis, the Associated Press reported.
“You can’t have people die because there is no oxygen. Beg, borrow or steal, it is a national emergency,” the AP quoted the judges as saying in response to a petition by a New Delhi hospital seeking its intervention.