Covid: India ‘not seen the worst yet’ as deaths reach record high amid variant battle

India’s Covid crisis has reached critical levels.

As deaths and cases soared to their highest daily record, doctors in the country have told ITV News the new variant is damaging patients’ lungs more quickly than the last – and is spreading faster.

In just 24 hours India reported more than 270,000 new infections and a daily death count of 1,619 – a 500% increase in a single month.

It comes as the Professor K. Srinath Reddy, president of India’s Public Health Foundation warned the country has «not seen the worst yet» with numbers likely to rise further.

The worsening situation has prompted Boris Johnson to cancel his trip to the country next week, while India has been added to the UK’s travel «red list».

«This mutant virus is affecting and damaging lungs at a much faster rate.»

Doctors working in Mumbai, the country’s largest city, have warned hospitals could face oxygen shortages imminently if the virus continues to spread so aggressively.

Dr. Akshay Yadav told ITV News: «Compared to the last wave, this mutant virus is affecting and damaging lungs at a much faster rate.

«And the rapidity with which this virus is spreading is faster compared to the last wave.

«Definitely the number of people requiring oxygen has increased drastically. If we don’t stop the virus this month, definitely we might see shortages of oxygen in the next month.»

India’s Covid-19 crisis in cases

The variant hasn’t just hit older patients, or those with pre-existing health conditions.

«The virus is not like the previous one,» Dr Yadav warned.

«The number of youngsters getting infested is much higher, and the intensity with which they are getting affected is much more drastic.»

The scale of the crisis in the city has led hospitals to convert any spare space into wards for Covid patients – one hospital converted its elevator lobby into a makeshift ward.

Early in the pandemic, ITV News reported from the city of Patna – the state capital of one of India’s poorest states – where healthcare systems were crumbling under the waves of Covid patients.

Nine months on, the city is once again in the grip of crisis.

Coronavirus patients have gathered outside Patna Medical College and Hospital, with beds and wards inside already filled.

Covid patients lie outside Patna’s main hospital – waiting for a bed

Shambhavi Kumari has been waiting outside the hospital with his relative, waiting to get them a bed and the care they needed. He asked the Indian government to «please help us».

«He is having breathing problems, we’re here for medical treatment but the beds are full. We’re trying to get admission but they’re refusing to admit him.

«We’re in a critical condition.»

Medics in the city have urged people to get vaccinated, stay at home if they’re unable to get vaccinated, and to wear a mask.

Shambhavi Kumari (right) waits with his relative outside the hospital – waiting for a bed. Credit: ITV News

Dr Firdous Hussain said healthcare workers are «trying their best» to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Her message is a familiar one: «Please do stay at home, keep on wearing masks, keep yourself away from crowded places».

But that health messaging is tough to maintain when Hindus in the country are marking one of the biggest festivals in the religious calendar.

Crowds gather to mark the Kumbh Mela festival

More than three million people gathered on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar city last week, to mark one of the most significant days of the Kumbh Mela festival.

Hundreds have since tested positive for Covid.

It is these large gatherings that India’s leading health experts have pointed to as examples of where more could have been done to avoid the current crisis.

«I believe we could have averted much of this problem,» Professor K. Srinath Reddy, president of India’s Public Health Foundation, told ITV News.

India’s current Covid crisis could have been prevented says health expert

«False belief lulled us into a sense of complacency at various levels, right from public behaviour to the administration’s inability to contain large crowds at various gatherings whether political, religious, or social.

«All of that gave free reign to the virus to move around – all of that could have possibly been prevented if we were more careful.»

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refused to impose a national lockdown, however, backing instead the ability of the country’s vaccination programme to combat the crisis.

On Monday, the India government announced all over-18s would be eligible for a vaccine from 1 May, with PM Modi saying: «Vaccination is the biggest weapon in the fight against coronavirus.»

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