UK joins global effort to get aid to India as country struggles against surging wave of Covid infections

This video contains distressing images
  • ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies reports on the growing crisis in India, as doctors warn things could still get worse

The UK has joined a global aid effort to help with the growing Covid crisis in India as a devastating new surge of infections rips through the country.

More than 600 pieces of urgently-needed medical equipment departed from the UK for India on Sunday.

The wave of infections facing India, spurred on by the emergence of a new variant, has depleted the supply of life-saving oxygen to critical levels.

For the fourth straight day, the country set a global daily record on Sunday with 349,691 confirmed cases over the past 24 hours.

It takes India’s total number of infections to more than 16.9 million - second to only the United States.

The Health Ministry reported another 2,767 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s total death toll to 192,311 - the fourth highest worldwide.

Experts say that toll could be a huge undercount, as suspected cases are not included, and many deaths from the infection are being attributed to underlying conditions.

  • Rebecca Bundhun has details of the situation on the ground in Mumbai

The crisis unfolding in India is most visceral in its graveyards and crematoria, and in heartbreaking images of gasping patients dying on their way to hospital due to lack of oxygen.

"The country really is in crisis," ITV News India Correspondent Rebecca Bundhun said.

"The government is working to try to get oxygen to hospitals, it's airlifting supplies in, it's using trains but it doesn't seem to be reaching the patients fast enough."

ITV News heard from a doctor working through the crisis who said patients were "dying on the roads" outside hospitals as they cannot get enough oxygen.

'I have not seen this type of situation where people are dying on the roads,' says Dr Bhatti

The situation has prompted international support, with the UK government sending hundreds of ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India.

The response follows discussions with the government of India, Number 10 said, with the first shipment due to arrive in New Delhi by Tuesday morning. 

Boris Johnson, who cancelled his trip to the country earlier this week due to the worsening situation, said: “We stand side by side with India as a friend and partner during what is a deeply concerning time in the fight against COVID-19.

The Prime Minister added: “We will continue to work closely with the Indian government during this difficult time and I’m determined to make sure that the UK does everything it can to support the international community in the global fight against pandemic."

Speaking on Sunday evening, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said a series of other shipments would follow the one going out on Sunday.

"We want to provide them all the support because they're close friends, increasing important partners, but also we need this kind of international collaboration if we're going to get through the pandemic.

"We're not going to be safe until we're all safe," Mr Raab said.

'We need this kind of international collaboration if we're going to get through the pandemic'

What is the situation on the ground in India?

Burial grounds in the Indian capital, New Delhi, are running out of space and bright while glowing funeral pyres light up the night sky in other badly hit cities.

In central Bhopal city, some crematoria have increased their capacity from dozens of pyres to more than 50, but officials said there are still long waits.

At the Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat crematorium, workers said they cremated more than 110 people on Saturday - even as government figures in the city with a population of 1.8 million put the total number of deaths at just 10.

"The virus is swallowing our city’s people like a monster," said Mamtesh Sharma, an official at the site.

Multiple funeral pyres of victims of Covid-19 burn at a ground converted into a crematorium in New Delhi. Credit: AP

The unprecedented rush of bodies has forced the crematorium to abandon individual ceremonies and rituals that Hindus believe release the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

"We are just burning bodies as they arrive," said Mr Sharma. "It is as if we are in the middle of a war."

The head gravedigger at New Delhi’s largest Muslim cemetery, where 1,000 people have been buried during the pandemic, said more bodies are arriving now than last year.

"I fear we will run out of space very soon," said Mohammad Shameem.

A Covid-19 patient receives oxygen inside a car provided by a Sikh gurdwara in New Delhi. Credit: Altaf Qadri/AP

What has been the reaction of the Indian government?

The breakdown is a stark failure for a country whose prime minister declared victory over Covid-19 in January, and which boasted of being the “world’s pharmacy”, a global producer of vaccines and a model for other developing nations.

Caught off guard by the latest deadly spike, the federal government has asked industrialists to increase the production of oxygen and other life-saving drugs in short supply.

But health experts said India had an entire year to prepare for the inevitable – and failed to do so.

Professor K. Srinath Reddy, president of India's Public Health Foundation, told ITV News last week that India had "not seen the worst yet" with numbers of deaths and cases likely to rise further.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing mounting criticism for allowing Hindu festivals and attending mammoth election rallies that experts suspect accelerated the spread of infections.

His Hindu nationalist government is trying to quell critical voices.

A hospital staff member checks oxygen cylinders inside a hospital in Srinagar. Credit: AP

On Saturday, Twitter complied with the government’s request and prevented people in India from viewing more than 50 tweets that appeared to criticise the administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The targeted posts include tweets from opposition ministers critical of Mr Modi, journalists and ordinary Indians.

A Twitter spokesman said it has powers to "withhold access to the content in India only" if the company determines the content to be "illegal in a particular jurisdiction".

The company said it had responded to an order by the government and notified people whose tweets were withheld.

India’s Information Technology ministry did not respond to a request for comment.