India surpasses 200,000 Covid deaths amid devastating surge

‘Clearly, there has been some serious failures’ by the Indian government, the head of the Disasters Emergency Committee told ITV Lunchtime News Presenter Nina Hossain

India has surpassed the bleak milestone of 200,000 recorded Covid-19 deaths, but there are fears the figure could be much higher.

A devastating surge of new infections is tearing through dense cities and rural areas alike, with the country’s health care systems on the brink of collapse.

The health ministry reported another consecutive single-day record of 3,293 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours – bringing India’s total fatalities to 201,187.

Like many other nations, experts believe the death toll and infection count could be an underestimation due to the way in which deaths are classified.

India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, is the fourth to cross 200,000 deaths, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico.

People queue for a Covid-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India Credit: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

The country also reported 362,757 new infections, a new global record, which raised the overall total past 17.9 million.

The previous high of 350,000 on Monday had capped a five-day streak of recording the largest single-day increases in any country throughout the pandemic.

India thought it had weathered the worst of the pandemic last year, but the virus is now racing through its population and systems are beginning to collapse.

For the past week, more than 2,000 Indians have died every day.

Oxygen supplies are scare, with treatment drugs like Remdesevir being sold for extortionate prices on the streets as families scramble to try and get their relatives care.

‘You are seeing the funerals…many people are dying’: Doctor in India says the government and health ministers in the country are unprepared for this coronavirus wave

Medics in the country have told ITV News the government and health ministers were prepared, but they weren’t.

Dr Manish Jangra said: «They were not prepared for anything, our health minister used to say ‘we are prepared, we are prepared’.»

«Our prime minister used to say ‘we will fight this corona, we will fight this corona’, and you are seeing the funerals.

«You are seeing many people are dying, dying, dying.»

Jitendra Singh Shunty, who volunteers on Covid-19’s frontline in India, now sees death every single day – his life is now dominated entirely by it.

‘They say the only people dying from Covid are dying in hospital…I know what the truth is’: Jitendra who volunteers at the Covid mortuary says he is picking up countless bodies

Each day he collects bodies – often families who died side-by-side from coronavirus.

At the mortuary, even the dead have to wait their turn.

«I don’t know whether to be angry or laugh. They say the only people dying from Covid are dying in hospital.»

«When I am picking up 50 dead bodies, I know what the truth is.»

ITV News heard from a renowned journalist, whose father died with coronavirus, who warned if the Covid-19 crisis «erupts» in India, it will «hit the world».

Barkha Dutt, a well-known figure in India and columnist for the Washington Post, said her father’s last words to her were: “I’m choking, treat me”.

‘If this erupts, it’ll hit the world’: Barkha Dutt on India’s Covid crisis

With its health care system sinking fast, India is now looking at other nations to pull it out of the record surge that is barreling through one state and then another.

A first shipment of medical kits, including ventilators, from the UK arrived in India on Tuesday – with a further 400 concentrators following on Wednesday and Thursday.

Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams told MPs Wednesday the equipment will «boost the oxygen supplies in India’s hospitals, which remain under severe pressure.»

Many other countries have offered assistance, including the US, which has promised to help with personal protective equipment, tests and oxygen supplies.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party campaigning in the southern state of Telangana. The party has come under fire for holding large rallies with no social distancing ahead of state elections:

Supplies from the US and Germany are expected to arrive on Wednesday.

Health experts say huge gatherings during Hindu festivals and mammoth election rallies in some states have accelerated the unprecedented surge India is seeing now.

They also say the government’s mixed messaging and its premature declarations of victory over the virus encouraged people to relax when they should have continued strict adherence to physical distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large crowds.

The national capital New Delhi is in lockdown, as are the southern states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Some other states, too, have enforced restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

Hindu holy men wait for the start of a procession towards the River Ganges for Shahi snan or a royal bath during Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. Credit: Karma Sonam/AP

India has also called on its armed forces to help fight the devastating crisis.

India’s chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, said late Monday that oxygen supplies would be released from armed forces reserves and its retired medical personnel would join health facilities to ease the pressure on doctors.

Meanwhile, India’s vaccination program appears to be struggling. So far nearly 10% of the country’s population have received one jab, but just over 1.5% have received both vaccines.

Indians 18 and older will be eligible for a vaccine from Saturday.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has extended its coronavirus appeal to include India in order to provide aid and medical supplies to the country. Those wishing to donate can do so here.

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