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Covid second wave overwhelms hospitals as ICU beds, vital drugs running short

The twelve-fold jump in India’s daily new infections, from some 11,000 in early February, comes as five Indian states are in the middle of conducting local elections.Premium
The twelve-fold jump in India’s daily new infections, from some 11,000 in early February, comes as five Indian states are in the middle of conducting local elections.

Across India, from the wealthiest and also the worst-hit state of Maharashtra to its most populous, Uttar Pradesh, reports are emerging of hospital beds running short and immunization centers turning away people as they run out of vaccines

India is facing an escalating health crisis, with its second wave of virus infections hitting record highs, overwhelming hospitals around the country as supplies of intensive care beds and vital drugs come under pressure.

Across the South Asian nation, from the wealthiest and also the worst-hit state of Maharashtra to its most populous, Uttar Pradesh, reports are emerging of hospital beds running short and immunization centers turning away people as they run out of vaccines. India reported more than 131,000 new infections Friday, and with over 13 million virus cases lags behind only the U.S. and Brazil.

On Wednesday Maharashtra’s Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the state had about three days worth of shots in stocks and vaccination centers across the state were being forced to shut down. The state capital Mumbai has also currently used up all but 3% of its intensive care hospital beds.

India’s capital New Delhi on Thursday reported more than 7,400 new infections, the highest so far in this year, with health care workers some of the worst affected. At Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the city’s top institutions, 37 doctors had been infected with Covid-19 with mostly mild symptoms, two people at the hospital said, asking not to be identified because the information wasn’t public.

In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh’s capital, as many as 40 doctors at the state-run in King Georges’ Medical University College have been infected, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Struggling Hospitals

“It’s going to be a horrible next two months," said Shuchin Bajaj, a director at the Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, which runs 14 hospitals across north India. “The impact is ten times what it was last year. This time it seems to be affecting younger patients."

A state-run Mumbai hospital had run out of ICU and oxygen beds, a doctor who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information said, adding the new surge in infections was bringing larger numbers of daily patients than the country’s first wave.

There were also reports of shortages of Remdesivir, a broad spectrum anti-viral medication used to treat Covid-19, Bajaj said, adding that getting supplies of the drug was becoming difficult at his hospitals.

Surging Numbers

Last month India paused exports of Covid-19 vaccines to focus on its domestic requirement, a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-touted vaccine diplomacy efforts. The country sent out more than 64 million shots between mid-January and March, 10.5 million as grants or aid and another 18 million for the WHO-led Covax initiative.

India has administered a total of 94 million doses, of which 6% have received one dose and only about 0.9% have received the two shots required, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. This is well below India’s target of immunizing 300 million people by August.

The twelve-fold jump in India’s daily new infections, from some 11,000 in early February, comes as five Indian states are in the middle of conducting local elections and northern Uttarakhand is holding the monthlong Kumbh Mela, a pilgrimage that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of devotees to the banks of the Ganges river.

“The second wave is bigger and nastier than the first wave, but we have lost our coordinates to politics," said Kunal Sarkar, a cardiologist at the Medica Super Specialty Hospital in Kolkata, West Bengal. “Politicians are happy gathering votes as the pandemic is on the rise."

Over the last few weeks, television footage and newspapers have been full of images of massive crowds at campaign rallies, with both social distancing and masks absent.

“The only good news that we know now what needs to be done," said Bajaj. “We know what the warning signs are. We’re not experimenting with patients."

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