NEW DELHI (AP) – COVID-19 infections and deaths are increasing at alarming rate in India with no end in sight to crisis and top expert warning that the coming weeks in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people will be “horrible”.
The official number of coronavirus cases in India surpassed 20 million on Tuesday, almost doubling in the past three months, while deaths officially surpassed 220,000. As staggering as these numbers are, the real numbers would be much higher, the undercoverage apparently reflecting the problems of the health system.
The country has witnessed scenes of people dying in front of overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres lighting up the night sky.
Infections have increased in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants of the virus as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for Hindu religious festivals and political rallies ahead of the elections. State.
India’s top health official Rajesh Bhushan declined to speculate last month as to why authorities were not better prepared. But the cost is clear: People are dying from lack of bottled oxygen and hospital beds, or because they couldn’t pass the COVID-19 test.
India’s official average of new confirmed cases per day has risen from over 65,000 on April 1 to around 370,000, and deaths per day have officially risen from over 300 to over 3,000.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours and 3,449 deaths from COVID-19.
Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University in the United States, expressed concern that Indian policymakers he has been in contact with believe things will get better. in the next few days.
“I … tried to tell them, ‘If all goes well, things will be horrible for the next few weeks. And it may be much longer, ”he said.
Jha said the focus should be on “classic” public health measures: targeted closures, more testing, wearing universal masks and avoiding large gatherings.
“This is what is going to break the back of this wave,” he said.
Figures on deaths and infections are considered unreliable because testing is spotty and reporting incomplete. For example, government guidelines ask Indian states to include suspected cases of COVID-19 when recording deaths from the outbreak, but many do not.
The United States, with a quarter of India’s population, has recorded more than 2 1/2 times as many deaths, at around 580,000 people.
City records last Sunday show 1,680 dead in the Indian capital were treated under procedures for handing over the bodies of those infected with COVID-19. But in the same 24-hour period, only 407 deaths were added to New Delhi’s official toll.
The New Delhi High Court has announced that it will start punishing government officials if oxygen supplies allocated to hospitals are not delivered. “Enough is enough,” he said.
The deaths reflect the fragility of the Indian health system. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party countered criticism by pointing out that health care underfunding was chronic.
But that was all the more reason for authorities to use the several months when cases in India refused to consolidate the system, said Dr Vineeta Bal of the Indian Institute of Scientific Education and Research.
“Only a patchwork improvement would have been possible,” she said. But the country “didn’t even do that”.
Now the authorities are trying to make up for lost time. Beds are being added in hospitals, more tests are underway, oxygen is being sent from one corner of the country to another, and the manufacture of the few effective COVID-19 drugs is being expanded.
The challenges are considerable in states where elections have been held and unmasked crowds have likely exacerbated the spread of the virus. The average number of daily infections in the state of West Bengal has increased by a multiple of 32 to more than 17,000 since polling began.
“This is a terrifying crisis,” said Dr Punyabrata Goon, organizer of the West Bengal Doctors Forum.
Goon added that the state must also speed up vaccinations. But the world’s largest vaccine maker is running out of vaccines – the result of manufacturing delays and raw material shortages.
Experts also fear that the price charged for vaccines will make it harder for the poor to get vaccinated. On Monday, opposition parties urged the government to make vaccinations free for all Indians.
India vaccinates about 2.1 million people per day, or about 0.15% of its population.
“It’s not going to end very soon,” said Dr Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at the University of Cambridge in England. “And really … the soul of the country is in danger in some way.”
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.