Covid: India faces a 'disaster' as cases surge, vaccination drive stalls and overwhelmed hospitals face oxygen shortage

Amid rising cases and hospitalisation, India is struggling to deal with coronavirus, John Ray reports

A doctor has warned India will become a "disaster zone" if Covid cases continue to rise at the rate they are currently accelerating at. India set a global record of new daily infections for a fifth straight day on Monday, with the 350,179 new cases pushing its total past 17 million, behind only the United States.

Deaths rose by 2,812 in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 195,123, the Health Ministry said, though the number is believed to be vastly underestimated. The crisis is grimly apparent in overwhelmed graveyards and crematoriums. Overflowing hospitals are turning patients, desperate for oxygen, away. A stalling inoculation drive, the way out of this dire situation, is compounding the problem.

"This is an eye opener for people": Emergency physician Dr Murtaza Bagwala is on the frontline of India's Covid crisis

Emergency physician Dr Murtaza Bagwala told ITV News the situation was a "major concern". "We're short of oxygen, short of normal beds, short of ventilators and of medicine," Dr Bagwala told ITV News. "If the cases keep rising the way they are right now, it will be a disaster zone. "This is an eye opener for people, and the government."He added: "I don't see a flattening of the curve happening for the next two or three months. "So, as the virus continues mutating, this wave could continue for a long time."

How many vaccines has India made for the rest of the world?

The Indian government had boasted of being the “world’s pharmacy”, a global leader in vaccine production. India is currently giving jabs of two vaccines - one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by Indian firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin). Both were approved in January ahead of the vaccine rollout to supply not just domestic doses, but also other countries, including the UK.

India exported 64 million doses of Covid vaccines between late January and March, according to data from the foreign ministry.

But amid a growing Covid crisis, the country with the world's biggest vaccine-making capacity stopped major exports in an attempt to meet domestic demand in March.

Indian authorities blamed raw material shortages, attributed to US export bans on specific items needed to make vaccines.

Some Covid-19 patients arriving at a hospital in Mumbai are being treated in the car park

How many people in India have been vaccinated?

India has administered more than 140 million doses - an impressive number, but in a country of 1.4 billion, this equates to 8.47% of the population, with just 1.55% of those being fully vaccinated (the UK in contrast has administered over 46 million doses, or 66.5 doses per 100 people).

Stock remains the largest obstacle. ITV News has seen several closed vaccination centres that have shut their doors because they do not have doses to administer.

In light of the shortages, many believe the government is unlikely to meet its target of vaccinating 250 million people by July despite its inoculation drive getting off to an excellent start.

Oxygen supplies are at critical levels across India Credit: AP

In early April, India declared that it was "the fastest country in the world" to give more than 100 million jabs in 85 days (it took the US took 89 days).

And supply issues are not the only problem. Vaccine scepticism, particularly among those in poor and rural areas, has meant uptake has been slow, a problem compounded by a lack of information on how to access the vaccine, with many not realising it is free or knowing how to register.

A man collapses outside hospital. Credit: ITV News

Why the supply issues?

One big factor was the decision by the United States to ring-fenced the supply of key equipment and raw materials for its own vaccine makers, limiting SII's operations and delaying by months its goal of raising monthly output to 100 million from up to 70 million now.

Faced with pressure to lift an export ban on raw materials, US said it would send those required for India to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for frontline workers.

President, Joe Biden, has previously said the US will not supply vaccines to other countries until it has enough supplies at home.

A closed vaccination centre. Credit: ITV News

What is the current Covid situation in India?Life-saving oxygen is in desperately short supply, with sick patients turned away from hospitals and families often left on their own to ferry people sick with Covid-19 from hospital to hospital in search of treatment.

Desperate relatives plead for oxygen outside hospitals or weep in the street for loved ones who died waiting for treatment.

Vaccines are running low on stock. Credit: ITV News

Health officials are scrambling to expand critical care units and stock up on dwindling supplies of oxygen. Hospitals and patients alike are struggling to procure scarce medical equipment that’s being sold on the black market at an exponential markup.

UK joins global effort to get aid to India. Britain is to send more than 600 pieces of urgently-needed medical equipment to India following the devastating surge in coronavirus cases which has overwhelmed the country’s health services. The assistance package includes 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators from surplus UK stocks.

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