© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Health care workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) stand outside a docking area at a COVID-19 care facility amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India, May 4, 2021. REUTERS / Niharika Kulkarni
By Tanvi Mehta
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A senior scientific adviser to the Indian government warned on Wednesday that the country would inevitably face further waves of the coronavirus pandemic as nearly 4,000 people died in one day.
As hospitals look for beds and oxygen after a deadly second surge in infections, the World Health Organization said in a weekly report that India accounted for nearly half of the world's reported coronavirus cases in the past week and a quarter of the deaths.
Many people have died in ambulances and parking garages, waiting for a bed or oxygen, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to cope with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies.
The government's key scientific advisor, K. VijayRaghavan, warned that even after infection rates fell, the country should be ready for a third wave.
"Phase 3 is inevitable given the high levels of viruses circulating," he said at a press conference. "But it is not clear when this phase 3 will take place … We should prepare for new waves."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been widely criticized for failing to act earlier to suppress the second wave after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became "super-spreader" events .
"We're running out of air. We're dying," wrote Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy in an opinion piece in which Modi was asked to resign.
"This is a crisis of its kind," she added in the article published Tuesday. "You can't fix it. You can only make it worse … So please go."
India's delegation to the Group of Seven Foreign Ministers meeting in London is self-isolating after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19, the UK said on Wednesday
Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is in London, said in a Twitter message that he would attend virtually.
The number of deaths rose by a record 3,780 in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, and daily infections rose by 382,315 on Wednesday. More than 300,000 people were counted every day for the past two weeks.
Medical experts say India's actual numbers could be five to ten times the official numbers. The country added 10 million cases in just over four months after taking more than 10 months to hit its first 10 million.
The opposition has called for a nationwide lockdown, but the government is reluctant to impose one for fear of the economic consequences, despite several states imposing social restrictions.
As a final step, the eastern state of West Bengal, where voters defeated Modi's party in an election last week, suspended the local train and limited working hours for banks and jewelry stores to limit infections.
The central bank asked banks on Wednesday to give some borrowers more time to repay loans as the crisis threatens an emerging economic recovery.
IF IN VACCINATIONS, CHECK
The surge in infections has been accompanied by a dramatic drop in vaccinations due to delivery and delivery problems, despite India being a major vaccine maker.
At least three states, including Maharashtra, home of the commercial capital Mumbai, have reported vaccine shortages and closed some vaccination centers.
Long queues with vaccines left in front of two centers in the western city, and some of those waiting pleaded for the police to open their gates earlier.
The government said production capacity for the antiviral drug Remdesivir, which is used to treat COVID-19 patients, has tripled from 3.8 million vials a month ago to 10.3 million vials per month.
However, daily tests fell sharply to 1.5 million, after peaking at 1.95 million on Saturday, according to India's state council for medical research.
Two "Oxygen Express" trains with liquid oxygen arrived in the capital New Delhi on Wednesday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter. More than 25 trains have distributed the oxygen supply across the country.
The government says supplies are adequate, but transportation problems have hampered distribution.
Meanwhile, the outbreak continues to spread.
In the remote state of Mizoram on the Myanmar border, beds are so scarce in its largest coronavirus hospital that all victims of other diseases have been told to leave the hospital, government official Dr. Z R Thiamsanga.
Only three of a total of 14 ventilators were still available.
"In my opinion, a full lockdown is needed to control the situation," he told Reuters from the state capital, Aizawl.
Neighboring Nepal is also being overwhelmed by an increase in infections as the Indian outbreak spreads across South Asia, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
With 57 times as many cases as a month ago, 44% of the tests in Nepal were positive. Cities near the border with India are unable to cope with the growing numbers of treatment seekers while only 1% of the population was fully vaccinated.