WHO says rush to hospitals worsens India COVID crisis

Vital medical supplies pour into India as hospitals starved of oxygen and beds turn away patients while surge in infections pushes death toll towards 200,000.

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is wheeled inside a COVID-19 hospital for treatment, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad, India, April 21, 2021 [Amit Dave/REUTERS]

India’s new coronavirus cases have stayed above 300,000 for a sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, while its armed forces have pledged urgent medical aid to help battle the staggering spike in infections overwhelming its hospitals and even the crematoriums.

Many countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States have pledged to send urgent medical aid, with the first shipment from the UK arriving early on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization chief described the situation in the world’s second most populous country as “beyond heartbreaking”.

Here are the latest updates:

Talks continuing about US shipments of vaccine abroad – Biden

The United States still expects to send COVID-19 vaccines to India and other countries amid continuing discussions over how soon doses could be shipped out, even as it sends therapeutics and other equipment to India amid a surge in cases there, US President Joe Biden said.

“I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines as well as know how, with other countries who are in real need. That’s the hope and expectation,” he told reporters after remarks on coronavirus at the White House.

President Joe Biden responds to a question from reporters about COVID-19, on the North Lawn of the White House, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington [Evan Vucci/AP]

US officials pledge sustained response to India’s COVID crisis

Senior US officials pledged sustained support for India in dealing with its coronavirus crisis and said the country was still at the “front-end” of the crisis.

White house National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell told a briefing call on the US response that President Joe Biden had told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a phone call on Monday: “You let me know what you need and we will do it.”

Increase in vaccinations can ‘absolutely’ make difference in India – US physician

Sending vaccines and ramping up the vaccination drive in India can “absolutely” help mitigate the current COVID crisis in India, US physician and Brown University professor Ashish Jha told Al Jazeera.

“Are you going to help in the next two weeks? Absolutely not. But they are going to be able to … if you can do it in certain locations and targeted ways,” he said at virtual media briefing.

“They are going to be the way that India slows things down four to six weeks from now, and therefore it’s worth making those investments today.”

‘Devastating’ situation in India hospitals – physician

A doctor in the Indian capital, New Delhi, said the situation in Indian hospitals is “totally devastating”, with ventilators and ICU beds fully occupied.

“There are no beds in the wards, our emergency room is full of patients, they have nowhere to go,” Sumit Ray told Al Jazeera via Skype.

“Our young resident doctors, nurses, are totally traumatised. They’re working really hard but they are devastated emotionally,” he added.

A patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, outside a parked car on the roadside amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Ghaziabad [Sajjad Hussain/AFP]

Fury as Delhi luxury hotel booked as COVID hospital for court staff

Authorities in Delhi ordered a luxury hotel to be converted into a COVID-19 health facility for the exclusive use of high court judges and their families, drawing outrage in a city that has no hospital beds or life-saving oxygen for hundreds of people.

The local government said in a public notice on Monday night that it had received a request from the Delhi High Court because of the rapid rise in coronavirus infections and had reserved 100 rooms at the Ashoka Hotel for the higher judiciary.

The Delhi High court denied it had sought such treatment, and said it would quash the order unless the government modifies it.

Merck in deal with India on antiviral drug

Merck announced a deal with five makers of generic drugs in India to produce molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral similar to the COVID-19 medicine remdesivir but in a more convenient pill form.

Late-stage testing of the drug just started in the United States, and it is unclear when the medicine might be used in India or elsewhere. A mid-stage study gave encouraging results, suggesting the drug quickly reduced virus levels when used early after infection.

Remdesivir is widely used for certain hospitalised patients but must be given as an infusion, which limits its use.

Merck corporate headquarters in Kenilworth, New Jersey [File: Seth Wenig/AP]

Senior Turkish, Indian officials discuss coronavirus

The Turkish presidential spokesman has discussed the latest developments on the coronavirus outbreak with the Indian national security adviser.

Ibrahim Kalin told Ajit Doval that Ankara was ready to offer help and show solidarity with India, according to diplomatic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Indian charity sets up makeshift virus facility

In Gurugram, south west of Delhi, a non-governmental organisation has set up a makeshift facility in the open, in an effort to help the patients who cannot find a bed in overwhelmed hospitals.

“We have patients who are waiting here for two days. They’re not finding any hospital. They just wanted oxygen because their doctor has advised them that,” Ishan Singh from the Hemkunt Foundation that runs the facility told British broadcaster Sky News.

He said many people have been there for several days, receiving oxygen they could not get in any of the hospitals or clinics.

India welcome at anti-virus video meeting – China

China will hold a video conference with South Asian governments to discuss fighting the coronavirus and India is welcome to join, Beijing’s foreign ministry said, amid ongoing tensions with New Delhi over border clashes.

China organised Tuesday’s meeting with the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, according to a ministry statement.

Asked about whether India was invited, Wang Wenbin, a ministry spokesman, said India was welcome to join.

A patient rests inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a COVID-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021 [Money Sharma/AFP]

Hello. This is Usaid Siddiqui in Toronto, Canada taking over from my colleague Elizabeth Melimopoulos.

Spain to send seven tonnes of medical aid to India

Spain will send just over seven tonnes of medical supplies to India, the foreign minister said.

“Nobody will be safe until we are all safe,” Arancha Gonzalez Laya told a news conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

UK has no surplus vaccines to supply to India: spokesman

The UK has no surplus vaccine doses at the moment and is prioritising vaccinating its population, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said when asked whether London was planning to export some shots to India.

“We committed in February to sending excess doses from the UK’s supply to the COVAX procurement pool and to countries in need once they are available,” he told reporters.

“Right now, we are moving through the UK prioritisation list for our domestic rollout and we don’t have surplus doses but .. we will keep this under review.”

Spain to enforce quarantine on travellers from India

Spain will enforce a quarantine on all travellers from India, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said.

As there are no direct flights from India to Spain, the measure will apply to those who travelled via third countries, Montero added.

Government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero announced a quarantine on travellers from India [File:Reuters]

Philippines to ban travellers from India

The Philippines will also ban travellers coming from India to prevent the spread of the new variant blamed for a huge surge in cases in the country, a senior official said.

Travellers coming from India or those with travel history to that country within the last 14 days before arrival will be banned from entering the Philippines from April 29 to May 14, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

Germany to airlift medical aid to India in coming days

Germany will “in the coming days” deliver medical equipment to India to help the country contain a surge in coronavirus infections, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

The equipment to be airlifted to India includes mobile stations for the production of oxygen as well as ventilators.

Belgium bans arrivals from India, Brazil, South Africa

Belgium has become the latest territory to ban travellers from India, Brazil and South Africa, major countries hit by fast-spreading coronavirus variants.

“Passenger travel by air, train, boat, and bus, including transit traffic, from India, Brazil and South Africa to Belgium will be banned,” Prime Minister Alexander de Croo announced in a statement.

India expects biggest share of US doses of AstraZeneca vaccine: Sources

India expects to secure the biggest chunk of the 60 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that the United States will share globally, two Indian government sources told Reuters, as New Delhi battles a devastating surge in infections.

On Monday, the White House said 10 million doses could be cleared for export “in coming weeks” and the rest by June. It has not revealed potential beneficiaries, but the sources said India could gain the most.

“The wheels of diplomacy and appeals from WHO and top public health experts changed their thinking and now we have the US ready to send vaccines,” said one of the sources, an aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indian state ‘cracks down’ on hospitals flagging oxygen shortage

The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state has ordered a crackdown on individuals and hospitals reporting a shortage of medical oxygen or beds, according to Indian media reports.

Over the weekend, the northern state’s saffron-clad Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu monk known for his hate speech, threatened to invoke the stringent National Security Act (NSA) and the Gangster Act against anyone trying to spread fear and panic during the pandemic, local reports said.

Read more here.

A health worker adjusts an oxygen cylinder that is being used for Covid-19 coronavirus patients at a private hospital [File: Sanjay Kanojia/ AFP]

Rush to hospitals, big gatherings worsen crisis: WHO

Some people in India are rushing unnecessarily to hospital, exacerbating a crisis over surging COVID-19 infections caused by mass gatherings, more contagious variants and low vaccination rates, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

“Currently, part of the problem is that many people rush to the hospital (also because they do not have access to information/advice), even though home-based care monitoring at home can be managed very safely,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters by email.

Medical staff work at a COVID-19 coronavirus patient admission area in New Delhi [File: Sajjad Hussain/ AFP]

OPEC+ to meet amid concern about rising cases

OPEC and its allies led by Russia will meet to discuss production policy amid upbeat forecasts for energy demand despite concerns about new coronavirus spikes in India, Brazil and Japan.

The group, known as OPEC+, will hold its joint ministerial monitoring committee (JMMC) meeting on April 27 instead of April 28 as planned earlier, according to three OPEC+ sources and an OPEC+ document seen by Reuters.

On Monday, the group kept its forecast for global oil demand growth for this year unchanged, projecting it to rise by 6 million barrels per day (bpd) after the biggest ever fall of 9.5 million bpd last year due to the pandemic.

However, OPEC+ said in a report that despite the more than one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses that have been administered globally, it was concerned that the most recent surge in new virus cases may derail recovering demand for oil.


Last day of Hindu festival

About 20,000 devout Hindus gathered on the banks of the Ganges River in the northern city of Haridwar on the last auspicious day of the festival for a bath they believe will wash away their sins.

“We believe Mother Ganga will protect us,” said a woman on the riverbank, where Reuters images showed people bathing with few signs of distancing measures, despite calls to be careful.

Tuesday’s turnout  was low, however, said Sanjay Gunjyal, a police official handling the arrangements, compared to the hundreds of thousands in previous weeks, as the crisis prompted many monk groups to limit participants to “symbolic” numbers.

Hindu devotees gather to take a holy dip in the Ganges River during Shahi Snan at “Kumbh Mela”, or the Pitcher Festival, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease [File:Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

Medical students in India feel betrayed

Since the beginning of the week, Dr Siddharth Tara, a postgraduate medical student at New Delhi’s government-run Hindu Rao Hospital, has had a fever and persistent headache. He took a COVID-19 test, but the results have been delayed as the country’s health system implodes.

“I am not able to breathe. In fact, I’m more symptomatic than my patients. So how can they make me work?” asked Tara.

There are 541 medical colleges in India with 36,000 post-graduate medical students, and according to doctors’ unions constitute the majority at any government hospitals – they are the bulwark of India’s COVID-19 response. But for over a year, they have been subjected to mammoth workloads, lack of pay, rampant exposure to the virus and complete academic neglect.

Fiji fears virus ‘tsunami’ after Indian variant found

A COVID-19 outbreak that forced Fiji’s capital into lockdown after the island nation avoided transmission for a year was confirmed as the Indian variant, with health officials saying they feared a “tsunami” of cases.

“We cannot let that nightmare happen in Fiji,” permanent secretary for health and medical services, James Fong said in a televised address.

“We still have time to stop it happening but a single misstep will bring about the same COVID tsunami that our friends in India, Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States are enduring.”

Australia says no queue-jumping for IPL players

Australia will not prioritise its Indian Premier League (IPL) cricketers for repatriation from India, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Three Australian cricketers have already cut short their IPL season to head home but a number of top players remain, including test stalwarts Steve Smith, David Warner and Pat Cummins.

Several Australians, including former test captain Ricky Ponting, are also involved in the IPL as coaches.

Australia suspended direct flights from India until at least May 15 to prevent more virulent COVID-19 strains from entering the country, and Morrison said the cricketers would not be allowed to jump the queue for repatriation flights when they resume.

“It’s done on vulnerability,” Morrison told reporters. “They travelled there privately under those arrangements, this wasn’t part of an Australian tour.”

Open to India, others joining COVID conference: China

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Tuesday that China was open to India and other South Asian countries participating in a virtual conference on fighting COVID-19.

The foreign ministers of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will meet via video link on Tuesday to exchange views on fighting the pandemic, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Gilead to ship 450,000 Remdesivir vials to India

Gilead Sciences Inc said it will give India at least 450,000 vials of its antiviral drug Remdesivir and help boost production.

Remdesivir is approved in India for restricted emergency use to treat severe COVID-19 cases, but hospitals are facing supply shortages due to indiscriminate use and the drug is being sold at over 10 times its listed price in the black market.

The shortage has raised concerns about hoarding as people queue up outside clinics and hospitals to buy the drug and millions take to social media to secure supplies.

COVID not a ‘You vs Us’ battle: India opposition leader

The president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, says the battle against the coronavirus pandemic in the country is not a “You versus Us” battle and urged the government to ensure more “political alignment” in tackling the crisis.

“For the last one year, the Congress Party has extended its full cooperation to the government. We believe that fighting COVID is not a ‘You vs Us’ battle but is an ‘Us vs Corona’ battle,” Gandhi said in an interview to The Indian Express.

“This battle is, therefore, beyond political alignments. We have to fight this battle together as a nation. The Modi government must realise that the battle is against COVID, it is not against the Congress or other political opponents.”

Over 1,000 COVID deaths ‘missing’ in Delhi: Report

An investigation by India’s NDTV network reveals the actual number of deaths from COVID-19 might be much higher than the official figures.

The channel says it visited the capital’s civic body and seven cremation grounds and found that at least 1,150 deaths did not make it to the official list.

Data collected from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s 26 crematoriums shows that 3,096 cremations of COVID-19 victims were conducted between April 18 and April 24, while the total deaths released by the Delhi government in the same time period show 1,938 deaths.

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carry wood to prepare a funeral pyre for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victim [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

India to receive first batch of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine on May 1

India will receive the first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 on May 1, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, said in an interview with CNN, Interfax news agency reported.

Russian pharmaceutical firm Pharmasyntez said earlier on Monday that it was ready to ship up to 1 million packs of the Remdesivir antiviral drug to India by end of May, once it has received the approval of Russia’s government.

India’s poll panel bans election victory rallies

The Election Commission of India has banned all victory processions on or the day after the counting of votes in five states which held regional polls, local reports said.

The counting of votes for the state elections, including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, will be held on May 2.

A woman wearing a protective face mask leaves after casting her vote at a polling station during the seventh phase of the West Bengal state election [Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters]

India’s second COVID wave in maps and charts

India’s second wave has surged across the country faster than the healthcare system can keep up with. For the sixth straight day, at least 2,000 people have died.

We take a look at this health emergency in seven maps and charts. Read more here.

India nears 200,000 COVID-19 deaths, army pledges help

India’s coronavirus death toll neared the bleak milestone of 200,000 with another 2,771 fatalities reported, while its armed forces pledged urgent medical aid to help battle the staggering spike in infections.

Over the past 24 hours, India recorded 323,144 new cases, slightly below a worldwide peak of 352,991 reached on Monday, with overrun hospitals turning away patients due to a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies.

“Please note that a huge fall in daily cases … is largely due to a heavy fall in testing,” Rijo M John, a professor and health economist at the Indian Institute of Management in the southern state of Kerala, said on Twitter.

“This should not be taken as an indication of falling cases, rather a matter of missing out on too many positive cases!”

Read more here.

Australia to halt direct passenger flights from India

Australia will suspend all direct passenger flights from India until May 15, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Queensland state had urged the federal government to halt all flights from India due to the high risk of potential COVID-19 outbreaks from highly contagious virus variants in Australia’s hotel quarantine system.

India posts 323,144 new COVID-19 cases

Over the past 24 hours, India recorded 323,144 new cases, below Monday’s worldwide peak of 352,991, with overrun hospitals continuing to turn away patients due to a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies.

It reported 2,771 new deaths, but health experts believe the tally runs significantly higher.

India’s overall caseload now stands at 17.64 million.

Australia mulls proposal to suspend flights from India

Australia is set to consider a proposal to suspend flights from India to prevent more virulent coronavirus variants entering the country following a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in the world’s second-most populous nation.

Queensland state has urged the federal government to halt all flights from India due to the high risk of potential COVID-19 outbreaks from highly contagious virus variants in Australia’s hotel quarantine system.

“I sent a letter to the Prime Minister at the end of last week asking for the suspension of flights coming in from India … and I know that the federal government is considering it today,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Australia’s national security committee will meet later on Tuesday to consider halting flights from India and will also unveil measures including sending medical supplies to help India, Australian media reported.

First shipment of UK medical aid arrives in India

The first shipment of COVID-19 medical supplies from Britain to India, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived early on Tuesday, the foreign ministry said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos of the equipment being unloaded from a German Lufthansa aircraft in New Delhi, calling it “international cooperation at work”.

Britain, one of several countries to announce sending help as India’s healthcare system buckles under a huge surge in coronavirus cases, is dispatching more than 600 pieces of vital medical equipment.

In total, nine airline container loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, will be sent this week, according to the British High Commission in New Delhi.

France to supply India with COVID-19 medical aid: Elysee

France will supply India with “substantial medical aid” to help the country tackle a huge wave of new coronavirus infections that are overwhelming its hospitals, the Elysee presidential palace said.

The shipments to India will include oxygen generators, respirators and cryogenic containers and will start next weekend.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies