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US aid arrives in COVID-stricken India as vaccination centers run out of gunfire and thousands gasp for breath


New Delhi – The first shipment of emergency medical aid supplies from the United States arrived in India on Friday as the country continued to grapple with an coronavirus case explosion which has forced its health care system to a breaking point. A US military transport plane carrying more than 400 oxygen cylinders, nearly a million coronavirus rapid test kits and other supplies touched down in Delhi on Friday morning.

But as mass vaccination centers were forced to close without any doses to stick, and people continued to die without oxygen in crowded hospitals, aid from the United States and other countries began to pour in is like a bandage for a severed leg.

“The United States stands with India as we fight against Covid-19 pandemic together, ”the US Embassy in India said in a tweet.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs thanked the United States for its contributions, which were the first step towards fulfilling President Joe Biden’s pledge earlier this week to support India in its “time of need.” . Just like India sent aid to the United States when our hospitals were under strain early on. In the pandemic. “

Another day of record infections

There is no indication that the devastating second wave of coronavirus infections in India is easing further.

The country has reported an average of more than 350,000 new cases per day over the past week. On Friday, there was yet another historic high of 386,452 new confirmed cases, bringing the total number of cases to more than 18.7 million.

The dizzying rate of infections has overwhelmed the country’s health care resources. Hospital beds, oxygen, coronavirus drugs and vaccines are desperately scarce. Many of the roughly 3,500 people who die from the disease every day cannot even access treatment because hospitals are full.


Inside look at India’s COVID-19 crisis

07:40

While India’s official COVID-19 death toll is just over 200,000, epidemiologist Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan told CBS News’s Holly Williams on Friday that he believed the actual figure could be six times higher than that – twice that of the United States.

Workers at some crematoriums in the capital Delhi and other hard-hit states including Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are working tirelessly to deal with the high death toll. Smoke from the non-stop funeral pyres suffocates the air of Delhi.

“Right now you don’t need the numbers,” Laxminarayan told CBS News of the official death toll. “You just need to get out in Delhi… the smoke is thick in the air.” It’s just constant.

Shortage of everything

The United States has joined dozens of other countries, including the United Kingdom, Russia, Romania, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates, to start sending medical aid this week. But despite tons of supplies hitting the ground – and repeated assurances from the Indian government of sufficient medical oxygen supplies – there has been no significant improvement in shortages.

Social media platforms in India were still dominated by SOS messages on Friday – normal citizens asking for help finding hospital beds, oxygen refills and key coronavirus drugs such as remdesivir and favipiravir.

An army of “COVID Warriors” has mobilized to try and connect people with the resources they need, but with the breakdown of government helplines and supply chains, many volunteers are now reporting fatigue and a feeling of helplessness as they are simply unable to help desperate people to reach out.

US aid arrives in COVID-stricken India as vaccination centers run out of gunfire and thousands gasp for breath
Patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receive treatment inside the emergency department at Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi, India on April 29, 2021.

DANISH SIDDIQUI / REUTERS


COVID-19 vaccines are also rare. The government expanded its vaccination schedule this week as deaths and cases increased, making all adults officially eligible. But even the registration system struggled to keep up with the demand as the online portal registered 2.7 million visits per minute on Wednesday, shortly after the inoculation was opened to all over 18 years old.

Officials in the country’s richest state Maharashtra – most severely affected by this second wave – said they would not do so urge 18-44 year olds to be vaccinated until they receive an additional 3 million doses, despite official national government policy making all adults eligible.

On Friday, all major vaccination centers in the technology hub in Mumbai, the state capital of Mahrashtra, were closed for three days because they simply had no doses to administer.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told people not to even worry about standing in line for vaccines, as no vaccines were available in the capital either.

Even the truth is hard to find

The Indian government, however, has continued to deny that there is a deadly oxygen shortage.

“There is no shortage of medical oxygen in the country, the supply [is] increased for relief from COVID-19, ”the federal government told India’s Supreme Court on Friday, according to Indian news network NDTV.

The Supreme Court on Friday warned the government against censoring information and grievances posted by Indian citizens on social media about the official response to the coronavirus.

“This seriously concerns me as a citizen or judge. If citizens communicate their grievances on social media, we do not want to suppress the information. Let us hear the voices of the citizens,” said Judge DY Chandrahud during a hearing on Friday.

US aid arrives in COVID-stricken India as vaccination centers run out of gunfire and thousands gasp for breath
People cremate their loved ones, who have died of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium in New Delhi, India on April 28, 2021.

DANISH SIDDIQUI / REUTERS


The court warning came a week after the Indian government asked Twitter to delete dozens of tweets criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration for its handling of the pandemic. Earlier this week, Facebook briefly blocked the “#ResignModi” hashtag, hiding hundreds of critical posts about Modi’s handling of the crisis.

“We temporarily blocked this hashtag in error, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” Facebook said later.

“The government has given no instructions to remove this hashtag. Facebook also said it was deleted in error,” the Indian government said in a statement.

Last week, the chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, insisted there was no shortage of oxygen and ordered criminal proceedings against hospitals and people he said were spreading “rumors” about oxygen shortages.

But several hospitals and state citizens have continued to report oxygen shortages, and reports from Uttar Padesh suggest the problems are rooted in more than just rumors.

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