India’s coronavirus death toll topped a quarter of a million on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the start of the pandemic, as the disease raged through the countryside, overwhelming a fragile rural health system.
Stimulated by highly infectious variants, the second wave erupted in February to flood hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoria and morgues. Experts are still not able to say for sure when the numbers will peak.
Deaths rose to a record 4,205 while infections rose to 348,421 in 24 hours through Wednesday, bringing the total to over 23 million, according to data from the Department of Health. Experts estimate, however, that the real numbers could be five to ten times higher.
Funeral pyres have been set alight in the city’s parking lots, and dozens of bodies have washed up on the banks of the sacred river Ganges, after being submerged by relatives whose villages have been stripped of the wood needed for cremation.
Lacking beds, medicine and medical oxygen, hospitals have been forced to turn away crowds of sick people, while tales of desperate parents looking for someone to care for their dying loved ones have become sickeningly banal .
Many victims die without a doctor on hand to issue a death certificate, and even when a doctor is available, COVID-19 is not specified as the cause of death unless the deceased has been tested for the disease. , which few have been.
Although the infection curve may show early signs of flattening, new cases are likely to fall slowly, top virologist Shahid Jameel said.
“We seem to cap around 400,000 cases per day,” said the Indian Express newspaper, as quoted by him.
“It is still too early to say if we have made it to the top. “
India, with a population of 1.4 billion, accounts for half of the cases and 30% of the deaths globally, the World Health Organization said in its latest weekly report.
The full impact of the B.1.617 variant found in India, which the agency has designated as a global concern, is not yet clear, he added.
Daily infections are on the rise in the countryside compared to large cities, where they slowed after last month’s outbreak, experts say.
More than half of the cases this week in the western state of Maharashtra have been in rural areas, up from a third a month ago. That share is nearly two-thirds in the most populous and predominantly rural state of Uttar Pradesh, according to government data.
Television showed images of people crying over the bodies of loved ones in dilapidated rural hospitals while others camped in wards caring for the sick.
A pregnant woman was caring for her husband who was having difficulty breathing at a hospital in Bhagalpur, eastern Bihar, where her health system could barely have handled in the best of circumstances.
“There is no doctor here, she sleeps all night here, looking after her husband,” her brother told India Today television.
In a hallway outside, two sons were crying over their father’s body, repeatedly saying he could have been saved if only he had been given a bed in an intensive care unit.
At the General Hospital in Bijnor, a town in northern Uttar Pradesh, a woman lay in a cot next to a trash can and medical waste.
“How can someone be treated if the situation is like this?” asked his son, Sudesh Tyagi. “It’s hell here.”
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