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India nears 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus death toll neared the bleak milestone of 200,000 with another 2,771 fatalities reported on Tuesday, while its armed forces pledged urgent medical aid to help battle the staggering spike in infections.

Over the past 24 hours, India recorded 323,144 new cases, slightly below a worldwide peak of 352,991 reached on Monday, with overrun hospitals turning away patients due to a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies.

“Please note that a huge fall in daily cases … is largely due to a heavy fall in testing,” Rijo M. John, a professor and health economist at the Indian Institute of Management in the southern state of Kerala, said on Twitter.

“This should not be taken as an indication of falling cases, rather a matter of missing out on too many positive cases!”

India has called on its armed forces to help tackle the devastating crisis. Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat said late on Monday that oxygen would be released from armed forces reserves and retired medical personnel would join health facilities that are struggling under the strain of cases.

Nations including Britain, Germany, and the United States have pledged aid, while Indian Americans in the US Congress and the technology sector have joined forces to help.

A shipment of vital medical supplies from the United Kingdom, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in Delhi early on Tuesday, Reuters partner ANI reported. France is also sending oxygen generators that can provide year-long oxygen for 250 beds, the embassy said.

The first “Oxygen Express” train for Delhi carrying around 70 tons of the life-saving gas also reached the national capital early Tuesday.

But the crisis in the metropolis of 20 million people is unabated.

Dr. K.Preetham, chief of medical administration at the city’s Indian Spinal Injuries Centre which is treating scores of COVID-19 patients, said the scarcity of oxygen was such that the hospital was splitting oxygen cylinders on patients.

“For seven days, most of us haven’t slept. Because of the scarcity, we are forced to put two patients on one cylinder and this is a time consuming process because we don’t have long tubes,” he said.

‘WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution amid the “storm” of infections.

In some of India’s worst-hit cities, bodies were being cremated in makeshift facilities in parks and parking lots. Critically ill patients lay on beds outside overwhelmed hospitals waiting for admission.

The US Chamber of Commerce warned the Indian economy, the world’s sixth largest, could falter as a result of the spike in cases, creating a drag for the global economy.

“We expect that this could get worse before it gets better,” Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the Chamber, the biggest US business lobby, told Reuters.

Australia paused direct passenger flights from India until May 15, the latest on a growing list of countries to curb travel from India to prevent more virulent virus variants from entering their borders.

Three Australian cricketers cut short their Indian Premier League season to head home amid the uncertainty.

India, home to around 1.3 billion people, has so far reported 17.64 million COVID-19 infections and 197,894 deaths, but experts believe the tally runs significantly higher.

The country is negotiating with the United States, which has said it will share 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine with other countries.

“Major lobbying is on at this point of time to secure as much as possible for India,” a senior Indian official part of ongoing negotiations told Reuters, adding that Mr. Modi had been assured that India would be given priority.

“At this juncture even harshest critics of India are pushing the US regime” to aid India, the official added. — Reuters

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