COVID spreading in rural India; record daily rises in infections, deaths
Hopes that India’s deadly second wave of COVID-19 was about to peak were dashed on Thursday as the virus spread from cities to villages across the world’s second-most populated nation, posting record daily infections and deaths.
In the last 24 hours, India recorded a total of 412,262 new COVID-19 incidents, with a total of 3,980 deaths. COVID-19 infections have now surpassed 21 million, with a cumulative death toll of 230,168, according to health ministry reports.
The government predicted that the second wave of infections would peak by Wednesday.
“This briefly puts an end to speculations of a top,” Rijo M John, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Kerala’s southern state, said on Twitter.
With hospitals scrambling for beds and oxygen in reaction to the outbreak, the World Health Organization said in a weekly study that India accounted for nearly half of all coronavirus cases recorded worldwide last week, as well as a quarter of all deaths.
In India, there are 3.45 million active incidents.
According to medical researchers, India’s real figures may be five to ten times higher than the official numbers.
The COVID-19 crisis in India has been most severe in the capital, New Delhi, and other towns, but in rural areas, which are home to nearly 70 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion population, limited public healthcare is facing additional challenges.
“The condition in villages has become serious,” said Suresh Kumar, a field organiser with the human rights organisation Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan.
“There are deaths in almost every second building” in some villages where the charity operates in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of around 200 million citizens, he said.
“With fever and cough, people are terrified and huddled in their houses. The signs are all of COVID-19, however since there is no evidence available, many people believe it is seasonal flu.”
According to government officials, India’s Goa district, a hugely popular tourism destination on the western coast, has the highest incidence of COVID-19 infections in the world, with up to one in every two citizens testing positive in recent weeks.
Since religious festivals and political protests attracted tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “mega spreader” gatherings, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been widely chastised for not intervening earlier to quell the second surge.
Despite India being a big vaccine manufacturer, the rise in infections has correlated with a sharp decline in vaccines due to production and distribution issues.
Several states have implemented varying forms of social controls in an attempt to curb the spread of diseases, but the federal government has failed to enforce a nationwide lockout.
Kerala, India’s southernmost district, has declared that it would enforce travel restrictions for nine days beginning Saturday, citing 376,004 active incidents.
DECISIONS About LIFE AND DEATH
In the capital, Delhi, only about 20 of the more than 5,000 COVID-19 intensive care beds are available at any given moment.
Student physicians, such as Rohan Aggarwal, 26, who has been hired to combat the second surge, are being asked to make life-or-death decisions.
His Holy Family Hospital in Delhi, which ordinarily has a facility of 275 adults, is now caring for 385.
“Who should be saved and who should not be saved should be determined by God,” Aggarwal said to Reuters during a bleak overnight turn.
“We aren’t built for it – we’re all people. However, at this moment in time, we are being forced to do so.”
The floor and shelves of a Hindu crematorium in Delhi are piled high with earthen bowls, plastic bags, and steel containers containing the cremated ashes of the city’s several COVID-19 victims.
A few days after the burial, practising Hindus gather the ashes of the deceased for immersion in a river or sea, one of several rites they assume contribute to soul redemption.
“Our lockers are fully packed. We are unable to store any further ashes. We used to get around 40 COVID-19 bodies a day. We are now informing families that the ashes must be returned on the same day.” Reuters spoke with Pankaj Sharma, a director at the crematorium.
Though India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines, it is unable to keep up with the increase in infections. It would take at least two months for its two new vaccine suppliers to increase gross monthly production from 70 million to 80 million doses.
The country’s highest scientific advisor has sent a warning about a potential third outbreak of infections.
“Phase 3 is unavoidable, considering the elevated levels of circulating virus,” said K. VijayRaghavan, the government’s principal science advisor, at a news conference on Wednesday.
“However, it is unclear when this step 3 would occur… We should brace ourselves for fresh waves.”