'If this erupts in India, it will hit the world': Journalist Barkha Dutt warns of Covid crisis after death of her father

If the Covid-19 crisis "erupts" in India, it will "hit the world", a renowned journalist whose father died overnight with coronavirus has told ITV News.

Barkha Dutt, a well-known figure in India and columnist for the Washington Post, shared the news of her father’s death on Tuesday.

SP Dutt was one of 2,771 Indians to die with Covid on Tuesday, but there are fears the true death toll could be much, with many dying in their homes.

India is in the grips of Covid, suffering record-breaking daily infections, severe oxygen shortages and overwhelmed hospitals - around 115 people are dying every hour.

Ms Dutt paid tribute to her “doting” father who she described as “kindest, loveliest man”.

She said that his last words to her were “I’m choking, treat me”.

And she told ITV News, on the day she cremated her father, that urgent help must be sent to India “for the sake of the world”.

“Don’t treat this as our problem alone,” she said.

“One of the necessary short term responses to the pandemic was to shut borders, I understand the need for countries to put their citizens first but the virus is this creature that travels through crevasses and under doors and over skies and in aeroplanes and across borders.

“And we live in a world where we cannot be separated indefinitely.

“If this erupts out of control in India this is going to hit the world sooner or later, so for the sake of science, for the sake of the world but also for the sake of the unprecedented humanitarian crisis that I think we’re going to see unfold here over the next few weeks.”

Watch the full interview with Barkha Dutt

She added that, sooner or later, “if it doesn’t touch the world’s conscience, it will affect the world’s security”.

The staggering rate of deaths could be higher still than the official death toll of 197,894, with experts believing deaths could be underreported.

That’s certainly Ms Dutt’s experience from reporting on the ground, where she says states are counting “half or even a fraction” of bodies, with many dying at home and their deaths from Covid going unreported.

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is facing a chronic shortage of space on its intensive care wards.

Oxygen is in dangerously short supply in hospitals and many people are being forced to turn to makeshift facilities for mass burials and cremations as the country’s funeral services become overwhelmed.

A relative of a Covid victim reacts at a crematorium in Jammu Credit: Channi Anand/AP

“When my sister and I went to cremate him today at the cremation ground there was no space,” she said.

“There was a fight that took place between three families for one spot just to say goodbye to somebody you’ve loved. There isn’t space at the cremation grounds.”

Despite the scale of the crisis unfolding in the country, Ms Dutt said even on Tuesday election rallies - which bring large numbers of people together - were still taking place.

“It’s a combination of complacency, callousness and incompetence,” she said, explaining why she believes India’s authorities have led the country to such a bleak situation.

And on Tuesday she experienced first-hand the kind of cases she had been reporting when an ambulance finally arrived to pick her father up.

“It was not an ambulance, but a rickety old car repurposed,” she said.

There were no paramedics and no oxygen cylinders, she told ITV News, adding she had to beg for her father to get a bed on an intensive care ward.

Yet Ms Dutt considers herself one of the lucky ones: “Most people I report on are dying at the gates of hospitals that are shutting doors to patients.”

Barkha Dutt explains why many Indians are going through greater tragedy

How bad is the situation in India?

India recorded more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, raising the country's total past 17.6 million, behind only the United States.

It ended a five-day streak of recording the largest single-day increases in any country throughout the pandemic, but the decline likely reflects lower weekend testing rather than reduced spread of the virus.

The health ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths in 24 hours, with roughly 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour.

The latest fatalities pushed India’s death toll to 197,894, behind the US, Brazil and Mexico. Experts say even these figures are probably an undercount.

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is facing a chronic shortage of space on its intensive care wards and hospitals are experiencing oxygen shortages.

Meanwhile, in a bid to tackle the shortage of beds, Indian authorities are turning to train carriages, which have been converted into isolation wards.

India has also started airlifting oxygen tankers to states in need. Special trains with oxygen supplies are also running in the country.

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