BENGALURU, India – Two southern Indian states have become the latest to declare lockdowns, as coronavirus cases rise at breakneck speed across the country and pressure mounts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to that it implement a national judgment.
With over 300,000 people, Karnataka’s capital, Bengaluru, has the highest active workload of any Indian city. But experts warn the worst is yet to come as India’s third-largest city suffers from oxygen shortages, overgrown hospitals and crowded crematoriums. In Tamil Nadu state, the lockdown announcement followed a daily record of more than 26,000 cases on Friday.
Infections have spiked in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to assemble for religious festivals and political rallies.
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India reported 401,078 confirmed cases on Saturday, including a record 4,187 deaths. Overall, India has over 21.8 million confirmed infections and nearly 240,000 deaths. Experts say even these dramatic tolls are underestimated.
A doctor in Bengaluru said he had to reject patients “left, right and center” as his hospital struggled to find more oxygen.
“The problem is that the demand is so high that we need constant oxygen,” said Dr Sanjay Gururaj, medical director of Shanti Hospital and Research Center. The hospital sends a truck twice a day to oxygen factories on the outskirts of town to bring back 12 giant oxygen cylinders. “Normally it would have lasted over two weeks – now it lasts a little over a day,” he added.
The state’s oxygen shortages prompted the High Court on Wednesday to order the federal government to increase the daily liquid medical oxygen supplied to Karnataka. The decision came after 24 Covid-19 patients died at a government hospital on Monday. It is not known how many of them died due to lack of oxygen, but an investigation is underway.
Modi has so far left the responsibility of tackling the virus in this current wave of ill-equipped state governments and has been accused of doing too little. His government replied that it was doing all it could, in the midst of a “once in a century crisis.”
Meanwhile, many medical experts, opposition leaders and even Supreme Court justices are calling for national restrictions, arguing that a patchwork of state rules is insufficient to stem the rise in infections.
In recent weeks, much of the focus has been on northern India, led by New Delhi, where TV stations have shown footage of patients lying on stretchers outside hospitals and pyres. mass burials that burn all night.
The unfolding situation in Karnataka has drawn attention to other southern states which are also struggling with an increase in cases. Daily cases have crossed the 20,000 mark in the past three days in the state of Andhra Pradesh, resulting in further restrictions in that country.
Kerala, which emerged as a model to fight the pandemic last year, began a lockdown on Saturday. With daily cases exceeding 40,000, the state is aggressively increasing its resources, including converting hundreds of industrial oxygen cylinders into medical oxygen, said Dr Amar Fetle, state officer for Covid-19.
“The scale of cases from last year to today is very different,” he said, adding that the increase in the number of cases meant more hospitalizations and more strain on health care systems. of health, the hospitals being almost full. “It has become a race between occupancy and how quickly we can add beds. We are trying to stay ahead of the virus as best we can. “