India COVID-19 Latest News: Situation in 'Beyond Heartbreaking'
Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carry wood to prepare a funeral pyre for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victim during a mass cremation at a crematorium in New Delhi, India on April 26. Photo Reuters
India is now the epicenter of the global pandemic, with infections rising by 352,991 in the last 24 hours and crowded hospitals running out of oxygen supplies and beds.
The World Health Organization chief voiced alarm on April 26 at India's record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths, saying the organisation was rushing to help address the crisis.
"The situation in India is beyond heartbreaking," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
He spoke as India battles a catastrophic coronavirus wave that has overwhelmed hospitals, with crematoriums working at full capacity.
A surge in recent days has seen patients' families taking to social media to beg for oxygen supplies and locations of available hospital beds, and has forced the capital New Delhi to extend a week-long lockdown.
"WHO is doing everything we can, providing critical equipment and supplies," Tedros said.
He said the UN health agency was among other things sending "thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies".
The WHO also said it had transferred more than 2,600 of its experts from various programmes, including polio and tuberculosis, to work with Indian health authorities to help respond to the pandemic.
The country of 1.3 billion has become the latest hotspot of a pandemic that has killed more than three million people worldwide, even as richer countries take steps towards normality with accelerating vaccination programmes.
The US and Britain rushed ventilators and vaccine materials to help India weather the crisis, while a range of other countries also pledged support.
People line up to refill empty medical oxygen cylinders
|People wait in line to refill empty medical oxygen cylinders for COVID-19 patients in front of a shop in New Delhi, India on April 26. Photo Xinhua|
|People wait in line to refill empty medical oxygen cylinders for COVID-19 patients in front of a shop in New Delhi, India, April 26, 2021. Photo Xinhua|
|A man lifts a refilled medical oxygen cylinder for COVID-19 patients in front of a shop in New Delhi, India on April 26. Photo Xinhua|
Risk of faltering Indian economy
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on April 26 warned that the Indian economy - the world's sixth largest - could falter as a result of a record spike in coronavirus cases, creating a drag for the global economy.
Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the Chamber, the biggest U.S. business lobby, said the risk of spillover effects was high given that many U.S. companies employ millions of Indian workers to run their back-office operations.
"We expect that this could get worse before it gets better," Brilliant told Reuters, citing a "real risk" the Indian economy would falter.
"There's a big concern about the drag on the (U.S.) economy by a devastating, spreading virus in India."
For now, he said the focus was on helping the Indian people.
The Chamber and CEOs from 40 firms on Monday launched a public-private task force to provide India with urgently needed medical supplies, oxygen and other assistance, and unveiled a new portal where U.S. firms can offer in-kind donations.
The partnership also includes the U.S.-India Business Council, the Business Roundtable and the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, the Chamber said.
Australia, German restrict travel from India
Germany classified India as a region with a particularly high risk of infection with COVID-19, a so-called virus variant region, and restricted travel between India and Germany with immediate effect on April 26.
"We are very concerned about the newly discovered virus mutation in India," said Minister of Health Jens Spahn via Twitter on Saturday.
"In order not to jeopardize our vaccination campaign, travel to India must be significantly restricted."
Only German citizens travelling from India were allowed to enter the country.
"They must also be tested before departure and enter a 14-day quarantine immediately after entry," Spahn noted.
Australia is set to consider a proposal on April 27 to suspend flights from India to prevent more virulent coronavirus variants entering the country following a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in the world's second-most populous country.
Queensland state has urged the federal government to halt all flights from India due to the high risk of potential COVID-19 outbreaks from highly contagious virus variants in the country's hotel quarantine system.
"I sent a letter to the Prime Minister at the end of last week asking for the suspension of flights coming in from India ... and I know that the federal government is considering it today," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on April 27.
Healthcare system broken
Dr. Gautam Singh dreads the daily advent of the ventilator beeps, signaling that oxygen levels are critically low, and hearing his desperately ill patients start gasping for air in the New Delhi emergency ward where he works.
Like other doctors across India, which on April 26 set another record for new coronavirus infections for a fifth day in a row at more than 350,000, the cardiologist has taken to begging and borrowing cylinders of oxygen just to keep patients alive for one more day.
On Sunday evening, when the oxygen supplies of other nearby hospitals were also near empty, the desperate 43-year-old took to social media, posting an impassioned video plea on Twitter.
“Please send oxygen to us,” he said in a choked voice. "My patients are dying.
A relative of a person who died of COVID-19 reacts at a crematorium in Jammu, India on April 25. Photo AP
India was initially seen as a success story in weathering the pandemic, but the virus is now racing through its population of nearly 1.4 billion, and systems are beginning to collapse.
SOS messages like the one Singh sent reveal the extent of the panic.
In addition to oxygen running out, intensive care units are operating at full capacity and nearly all ventilators are in use. As the death toll mounts, the night skies in some Indian cities glow from the funeral pyres, as crematories are overwhelmed and bodies are burned in the open air.
Doctors like Singh are on the front lines, trying to get the supplies they need to keep their patients alive.
Singh received 20 oxygen cylinders on Monday, only enough to enable the hospital to limp through the day until the ventilators start sending out their warning beeps again.
“I feel helpless because my patients are surviving hour to hour,” Singh said in a telephone interview. “I will beg again and hope someone sends oxygen that will keep my patients alive for just another day.”
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