© Reuters. Medics care for a man with breathing problems in a COVID-19 unit of a government-run hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Bijnor District, Uttar Pradesh, India, May 11, 2021. REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui
From Danish Siddiqui and Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The coronavirus death toll in India surpassed a quarter of a million on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began as the disease raged across the country and overwhelmed a fragile rural health system.
The second wave broke out in February, inundating hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoriums and funerals. Experts still can’t say for sure when the numbers will peak.
The death toll rose a record 4,205 while the number of infections rose 348,421 in the 24 hours through Wednesday. However, experts believe the actual numbers could be five to ten times higher.
Pyres blazed in the city’s parking lots, and corpses washed up on the banks of the holy Ganges, submerged by relatives whose villages had been stripped of the wood needed for cremation.
With no hospitals, drugs, and medical oxygen, many hospitals in the world’s second largest nation have been forced to turn away crowds, while stories of desperate relatives looking for someone to treat dying loved ones have become obnoxiously commonplace.
Many victims die without a doctor to issue a death certificate, and even when a doctor is available, COVID-19 is not listed as a cause of death unless the deceased has been tested for the disease, which were few.
Although the infection curve may show early signs of flattening, new cases are likely to be slowly falling, according to virologist Shahid Jameel.
“We seem to have around 400,000 cases a day,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted him as saying. “It is too early to say whether we have peaked.”
India, with a population of 1.4 billion, is responsible for half of COVID-19 cases and 30% of deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its latest weekly report.
The full effect of variant B.1.617 found in India, which the WHO has classified as of global concern, is not yet clear, she added.
Dr. Balram Bhargava, head of India’s main health agency responding to the coronavirus, said districts where over 10% of people tested have the disease should remain on lockdown for an additional six to eight weeks to control the spread.
Currently, three quarters of India’s 718 districts have a so-called test positivity rate of over 10%, including major cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and the Bengaluru Technology Center.
Daily infections are on the rise in the countryside compared to major cities, where they have slowed after rising last month, experts say.
More than half of the cases this week in the western state of Maharashtra were in rural areas, up from a third a month ago. That proportion is almost two-thirds in the most populous and mostly rural state of Uttar Pradesh, government data showed.
The television showed pictures of people crying over the bodies of loved ones in dilapidated rural hospitals while others camped in hospital wards.
A pregnant woman was caring for her husband, who was having difficulty breathing in a hospital in Bhagalpur, eastern Bihar State.
“There is no doctor here, she sleeps here all night taking care of her husband,” the woman’s brother told India Today.
In a corridor outside, two sons howled at their father’s body, saying repeatedly that if only he could have been given an intensive care bed, he could have been saved.
In the general hospital in Bijnor, a town in the north of Uttar Pradesh, a woman was lying in a cot next to a garbage can and medical waste.
“How can someone be treated if this is the situation?” asked her son Sudesh Tyagi. “It’s hell out here.”