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India Covid: Death toll rises above 200,00 in country’s deadliest day


India has suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic so far as its death toll topped 200,000 – though experts warn that is likely a gross under-estimate and the true toll could be easily double the official figure.  

The country reported 3,293 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, pushing its overall toll from 197,894 to 201,187 – the world’s fourth highest after the US, Brazil and Mexico – and logged 360,960 new cases, both record figures. 

Video taken at a hospital in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat state, underlined the severity of the crisis as it showed bodies lined up in the morgue awaiting identification by relatives so they can be taken for cremation or burial.

It came as investigations by Indian newspapers at cremation grounds suggested the true death toll could be double the official figures due to under-counting by officials, a lack of tests meaning Covid deaths cannot be confirmed, and patients being left to die on the streets or at home without the deaths being medically certified.

One cremation ground in Bangalore recorded 3,104 cremations of Covid victims during March and April, the Times of India reports, but official government figures for the city only logged 1,422 Covid deaths in that period.

Another investigation by NDTV found that crematoriums in Delhi recorded 3,096 Covid cremations last week, while the official Covid death tally stood at just 1,938.

Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times that his modelling suggests India’s death toll is at least double the official tally, but could be up to five times higher.

Meanwhile Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejrilwal warned today that the wave is being driven by a ‘supremely contagious’ variant of the disease which is causing more severe cases of Covid that take longer to recover from, pushing hospitals past their limits. 

As India’s woes mount, it was reported today that…

  • Delhi began converting dog crematorium sites to deal with human bodies, in addition to public parks, car parks, and abandoned pieces of land which are being used to keep up with the record number of deaths
  • 25,000 people bathed in the Ganges River Tuesday during the final day of the Kumbh Mela religious festival which was allowed to go ahead despite India’s mounting case toll
  • India announced that everyone over the age of 18 will be able to get Covid vaccines from this week, but dwindling supplies mean only a fraction will actually be able to get a jab 
  • Pakistan reported a record one-day Covid death toll amid fears the Indian variant has already spread to the country and medics warning ‘we are the next India’  
  • Pressure grew on India to halt Premier League cricket as it was revealed sportsmen are being offered jabs despite playing in ‘Covid-secure’ bubbles
  • Wealthy Indians were accused of ‘jumping the queue’ for treatment with 100 beds set aside for High Court judges at a hotel in Delhi, despite shortages at hospitals 
  • The WHO blamed India’s Covid surge on a ‘perfect storm’ of more-infectious variants, mass public gatherings, and panic that caused people to rush to hospitals unnecessarily – where many picked up infections 

India’s official Covid death toll has topped 200,000 as the country is devastated by a second wave of virus, but experts have warned the true toll could easily be double that and perhaps up to five times higher (pictured a victim is buried in Delhi)

India reported 3,293 deaths from the virus on Wednesday and another 360,960 cases, both one-day records, as the current crisis shows no sign of slowing (pictured, a Covid victim is buried in Delhi)

India reported 3,293 deaths from the virus on Wednesday and another 360,960 cases, both one-day records, as the current crisis shows no sign of slowing (pictured, a Covid victim is buried in Delhi)

The body of a Muslim victim of Covid is prepared for burial in New Delhi as opposed to Hindu victims, who are typically cremated in line with religious traditions

The body of a Muslim victim of Covid is prepared for burial in New Delhi as opposed to Hindu victims, who are typically cremated in line with religious traditions

Bodies are lined up for cremation at a site in New Delhi on Wednesday morning as India's Covid crisis continues unabated

Bodies are lined up for cremation at a site in New Delhi on Wednesday morning as India’s Covid crisis continues unabated

Hindu tradition stipulates that bodies should be burned within 24 hours of death, meaning crematoriums are now working overtime to deal with the wave of fatalities caused by Covid

Hindu tradition stipulates that bodies should be burned within 24 hours of death, meaning crematoriums are now working overtime to deal with the wave of fatalities caused by Covid

Shashikantbhai Parekh, an elderly patient suffering from breathing difficulties, arrives at a hospital in Ahmedabad and is carried inside by medical staff

Shashikantbhai Parekh, an elderly patient suffering from breathing difficulties, arrives at a hospital in Ahmedabad and is carried inside by medical staff 

Nanduba Chavda sits in an ambulance as her husband adjusts her oxygen mask while waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital in the city of Ahmedabad

Nanduba Chavda sits in an ambulance as her husband adjusts her oxygen mask while waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital in the city of Ahmedabad

India reported 3,293 new cases of Covid on Wednesday, a new one-day record, but amid warnings the true toll is likely far higher because the country only counts those who die in hospitals

India reported 3,293 new cases of Covid on Wednesday, a new one-day record, but amid warnings the true toll is likely far higher because the country only counts those who die in hospitals

India also recorded another 360,960 cases of Covid, also a one-day record, as Delhi's chief minister warned the wave is being driven by a 'supremely infectious' variant that causes more severe cases that last longer

India also recorded another 360,960 cases of Covid, also a one-day record, as Delhi’s chief minister warned the wave is being driven by a ‘supremely infectious’ variant that causes more severe cases that last longer

India’s Covid response: 1st wave vs 2nd wave 

India is suffering the world’s worst second wave of Covid, driven by what the WHO says is a mixture of more infectious variants and government complacency.

While India reacted to the first wave with a complete national shutdown and strict social distancing measures, mass gatherings and political rallies were allowed to go ahead even as the second wave of cases mounted.

Here, MailOnline examines two very different responses that produced two very different results:

1st wave

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the country’s first ‘lockdown’ – a request for everyone to stay at home for 14 hours – on March 22 as cases reached 100 with one death, but followed up with a mandatory nationwide shutdown just three days later as cases hit 600.

All industrial activity was closed down with only essential businesses allowed to open and everyone told to stay in their homes, with measures initially due to last until April 14.

The move caused chaos in a country that relies heavily on migrant labour, as millions of people fled cities for their villages in the countryside – some travelling for days on foot to get there.

Modi subsequently extended the lockdown until May 3 with liquor stores allowed to reopen on May 4 – but were closed just hours later after drawing huge crowds with police using baton-charges to disperse people. The nationwide lockdown was then extended, first until May 18 and then until June 4.

A gradual unlocking process began June 5 and lasted through to the end of the year, with states slowly reopening their economies while trying to enforce social distancing and mask rules – though in reality many measures were abandoned sooner than scheduled.

2nd wave

As many western countries experienced a second wave of Covid during the winter, the Indian government congratulated itself on what it called ‘victory’ over the virus, as cases and deaths continued to decline even with most lockdown measures lifted.

Normal life was largely allowed to resume with mass political rallies taking place for election due to take place in March and April – some of which were attended by Modi himself.

The Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela was also given the go-ahead, with millions of devotees gathering on the banks of the Ganges during four months of celebrations that began in January and lasted until this week.

Crowds were also allowed back into sporting events, with England playing India in January in font of stand of maskless fans. 

In February, with infections at their lowest point, Modi’s party took a victory lap – passing a resolution that declared ‘victory’ against Covid ‘under the visionary leadership of the Prime Minister’. 

But even then, medics were warning that the virus had simply moved into rural areas where testing is far less widespread and up to 80% of deaths are not registered, hiding the infection from the eyes of the government.

Their warnings proved right, as infections began rising at the end of the month before taking off during March and hitting record levels in recent weeks, now accounting for more than 40 per cent of global infections every day. 

 

Testing shortages, common in countries overwhelmed by the virus, are further suppressing the official count while The Telegraph reports that some states are not logging deaths as Covid-related if there is a comorbidity that contributed to the death.

‘I can easily say that around 1,000 Covid-19 cases are getting funerals every day. This figure is seven to eight times higher than the official figures,’ the manager of one crematorium in Delhi told the newspaper 

In a frank admission to BBC Radio 4, Narendra Taneja – a leader in the ruling BJP party – said today that ‘nobody knows’ the true death toll in India, but denied the government is deliberately covering up deaths.

‘In a country like India, a huge country, you can’t hide a death in this country, if there is any mismatch that will come out,’ he said.

In the capital, New Delhi, ambulances lined up for hours to take COVID-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows of funeral pyres.

Coronavirus sufferers, many struggling for breath, flocked to a Sikh temple on the city’s outskirts, hoping to secure some of its limited supplies of oxygen.

Hospitals in and around the Indian capital said oxygen remains scarce, despite commitments to step up supplies.

‘We spend the day lowering oxygen levels on our ventilators and other devices as our tanks show alarmingly dipping levels,’ Dr Devlina Chakravarty, the managing director of the Artemis hospital in the suburb of Gurgaon, wrote in the Times of India newspaper.

‘We make hundreds of calls and send messages every day to get our daily quota of oxygen.’

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrilwal said people were falling sick more severely and for longer periods, stacking up the pressure. ‘The current wave is particularly dangerous,’ he said.

‘It is supremely contagious and those who are contracting it are not able to recover as swiftly. In these conditions, intensive care wards are in great demand.’ 

Police said a fire early on Wednesday at a hospital on the outskirts of the financial capital of Mumbai killed four people and injured several more.

Accidents at hospitals have become a special concern as India runs short of beds and oxygen supplies. Last week a fire at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients and a leaking oxygen tank at another killed 22 people.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Pakistan, authorities reported 201 deaths from coronavirus, the country’s highest single-day toll of the pandemic so far.

According to National Command and Control Center, 5,292 new cases were also reported in the past 24 hours.

Officially, Pakistan has no cases of the Indian variant but testing in the country is limited, meaning it could have crossed the border undetected.

Nervous ministers have therefore put in place tough new measures such as a 6pm curfew and mandatory mask wearing in an attempt to prevent the scenes in India being repeated. 

Pakistan is also planning a lockdown in the worst-hit cities in the first week of May. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan has resisted demands for a nationwide lockdown, citing its economic impact, but he has also warned that he will be forced to impose a lockdown if people do not stop violating social distancing rules.

Back in Delhi, supplies of foreign aid have begun arriving including ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain, with more sent from Australia, Germany and Ireland.

‘First shipment of oxygen generators from #Taiwan to #India is leaving this week,’ Kolas Yotaka, a spokeswoman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, said on Twitter.

‘We are all in this together.’

Several countries have suspended flights from India, among measures to keep out more virulent variants of the virus.

An elderly Covid patient is given oxygen at a Sikh Gurdwara, or place of worship, in the city of Ghaziabad after hospitals overflowed and were unable to treat her

An elderly Covid patient is given oxygen at a Sikh Gurdwara, or place of worship, in the city of Ghaziabad after hospitals overflowed and were unable to treat her

A woman suffering from breathing difficulties due to Covid waits to get oxygen at a Sikh Gurudwara in Ghaziabad

A woman suffering from breathing difficulties due to Covid waits to get oxygen at a Sikh Gurudwara in Ghaziabad

An elderly patient suffering with Covid lies in the back of a car as they are given oxygen by a Sikh worker at a Gurdwara in the city of Ghaziabad, India

An elderly patient suffering with Covid lies in the back of a car as they are given oxygen by a Sikh worker at a Gurdwara in the city of Ghaziabad, India

Studies at cremation grounds in Delhi (pictured) and Bangalore found that thousands of bodies Covid victims were being brought

Studies at cremation grounds in Delhi (pictured) and Bangalore found that thousands of Covid victims were being brought for cremation that are not being logged in official statistics

Cremation workers in Delhi prepare a body to be burned, with staff now working night and day in order to keep up with the demand. Hindu tradition stipulates that a body should be burned within 24 hours of the person's death

Cremation workers in Delhi prepare a body to be burned, with staff now working night and day in order to keep up with the demand. Hindu tradition stipulates that a body should be burned within 24 hours of the person’s death

Crematorium workers in Delhi build makeshift fire pits on spare land next to a motorway in order to keep up with demand which has rocketed as the country is battered by a second wave of virus

Crematorium workers in Delhi build makeshift fire pits on spare land next to a motorway in order to keep up with demand which has rocketed as the country is battered by a second wave of virus

Makeshift cremation pits are constructed next to a highway in Delhi, with public parks, car parks, and gardens all repurposed to deal with a mountain of bodies caused by the Covid pandemic

Makeshift cremation pits are constructed next to a highway in Delhi, with public parks, car parks, and gardens all repurposed to deal with a mountain of bodies caused by the Covid pandemic

A mass funeral takes place for COVID-19 victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi

A mass funeral takes place for COVID-19 victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi

Relatives of Covid victims and crematorium workers stand by the smouldering remains of funeral pyres in New Delhi

Relatives of Covid victims and crematorium workers stand by the smouldering remains of funeral pyres in New Delhi

Credit rating agency S&P Global said India’s second wave of infections could impede its economic recovery and expose other nations to further waves of outbreaks.

Covid-ravaged India suffers an earthquake 

A powerful 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Covid-ravaged India today, sending terrified residents fleeing as the aftershocks were felt for hundreds of miles.  

The US Geological Survey said the epicentre was in a hilly region in Assam state near India’s border with Bhutan. 

There have been no reports of casualties so far, with residents saying the main human toll was stress, minor cuts and bruises.

It comes as India is in the throes of a savage second wave of coronavirus, with more than 360,000 cases recorded on Wednesday as the death toll soared over 200,000. 

Fortunately northeastern India, where this morning’s quake struck, has not yet experienced a widespread outbreak of coronavirus, being more sparsely populated than the central and western states. 

The quake was felt for hundreds of miles, as far away as the state of Bengal, as well as neighbouring Bhutan and Bangladesh. 

It rocked Tezpur, a city of 100,000 people, located just 28 miles from the epicentre.

‘It lasted more than 20 seconds and we were really scared,’ Tezpur resident Swati Deb Dey said.

‘The walls shook as we ran downstairs and even outside the road was moving. Everyone is shocked,’ she added.

The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, was susceptible to contagion from the highly infectious variants in India, given the region’s low ratios of vaccination, it added. 

U.S. President Joe Biden said he had spoken at length with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues such as when the United States would be able to ship vaccines to the South Asian nation, and added that it was his clear intention to do so.

‘I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines, as well as know-how, with other countries who are in real need. That’s the hope and expectation,’ he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department’s coordinator for global COVID-19 response, Gayle Smith, warned that India’s challenge called for a sustained effort: ‘We all need to understand that we are still at the front end of this. This hasn’t peaked yet.’ 

Anthony Facui, the top US infectious disease expert, also warned today that wealthy countries need to do more to protect countries such as India – and that leaders had failed to mount a global response to the pandemic.

‘The only way that you’re going to adequately respond to a global pandemic is by having a global response, and a global response means equity throughout the world,’ he said.

Facui spoke as America works to divvy up a stockpile of some 60million AstraZeneca vaccines that it likely will not use between developing nations, with India thought to be the priority.

Asked today whether the UK will be giving any vaccines to India, transport secretary Grant Shapps refused to say, but added that the situation in the country is ‘horrific’ and Britain is looking at ways to help. 

Meanwhile the Prince of Wales sent a message to the people of India, saying he is ‘deeply saddened by the tragic images we have all seen as Covid-19 takes its horrific toll’.

Heir to the throne Charles said the British Asian Trust, which he founded in 2007, has launched an Oxygen For India appeal to raise funds for oxygen concentrators to be sent to the hospitals and patients most in need.

The prince said: ‘Like many others, I have a great love for India and have enjoyed many wonderful visits to the country. Indian aid and ingenuity has been a support to other countries through this immensely difficult time.

‘As India has helped others, so now must we help India.’

He added: ‘I would also want those suffering the effects of this pandemic in India to know that they are in my thoughts and prayers. Together, we will win this battle.’

Relatives carry a woman who fainted after seeing the body of her husband at a government COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad

Relatives carry a woman who fainted after seeing the body of her husband at a government COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad

Health workers attend to a colleague who fainted due to exhaustion and long working hours at a COVID-19 testing center in New Delhi, India

Health workers attend to a colleague who fainted due to exhaustion and long working hours at a COVID-19 testing center in New Delhi, India

Shruti Saha, who had been waiting since Tuesday night for her turn to get oxygen at a refilling centre in Delhi, is informed that she has died before she could reach the front of the line

Shruti Saha, who had been waiting since Tuesday night for her turn to get oxygen at a refilling centre in Delhi, is informed that she has died before she could reach the front of the line

A woman and her son arrive at a Delhi oxygen refilling centre to get a tank topped up for their sick relative

A woman and her son arrive at a Delhi oxygen refilling centre to get a tank topped up for their sick relative

A municipal official, right in blue, reprimands a restaurant owner, in white for not adhering to guidelines during a lockdown imposed due to rising number of COVID-19 cases in Bengaluru

A municipal official, right in blue, reprimands a restaurant owner, in white for not adhering to guidelines during a lockdown imposed due to rising number of COVID-19 cases in Bengaluru

Supplies arriving in New Delhi included ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain, with more sent from Australia, Germany and Ireland, while Singapore and Russia pledged oxygen cylinders and medical supplies.

‘First shipment of oxygen generators from #Taiwan to #India is leaving this week,’ Kolas Yotaka, a spokeswoman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, said on Twitter. ‘We are all in this together.’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed $10 million, adding on Twitter, ‘We stand ready to donate extra medical supplies, too.’

Credit rating agency S&P Global said India’s second wave of infections could impede its economic recovery and expose other nations to further waves of outbreaks.

The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, was susceptible to contagion from the highly infectious variants in India, given the region’s low ratios of vaccination, it added.

Tech firms in the southern city of Bengaluru and elsewhere set up ‘war rooms’ as they scrambled to source oxygen, medicine and hospital beds for infected workers and maintain backroom operations for the world’s biggest financial firms.

Epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee called for much larger lockdowns to slow the spread.

‘At this point, lives are so much more important than livelihoods,’ the University of Michigan professor said on Twitter. ‘Provide assistance to the poor, but please lock down and vaccinate.’

Vaccinations in a national campaign begun in January have averaged about 2.8 million doses a day since an April 5 peak of 4.5 million, government data shows.

More than 121 million people have received at least one dose, or about 9% of the population.

Later on Wednesday, India will allow all above 18 to register for vaccination, starting from May 1. About 800 million are estimated to become eligible.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he had spoken at length with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues such as when the United States would be able to ship vaccines to the South Asian nation, and added that it was his clear intention to do so.

‘I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share, share vaccines, as well as know-how, with other countries who are in real need. That’s the hope and expectation,’ he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT? 

Real name: B.1.617

When and where was it discovered? The variant was first reported by the Indian government in late March. 

But the first cases appear to date back to October 2020. 

It has been detected in 21 countries as of April 19, Public Health England bosses say.

How many people in the UK have been infected with it? Public Health England figures show 132 cases of the Indian variant have now been spotted in the UK, including 55 in the past week.

Three people who caught the mutant strain in the past week had no travel links, suggesting the virus is spreading in the community.

But scientists say the true figure will be much higher because it takes up to three weeks for virus samples to be thoroughly analysed in a laboratory.

What mutations does it have? It has 13 mutations that separate it from the original Covid virus that emerged in China — but the two main ones are named E484Q and L452R.

Scientists suspect these two alterations can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants. 

Is it more infectious and can it evade vaccines? The L452R mutation is also found on the Californian variant (B.1.429), even though the two evolved independently. It is thought to make the American strain 20 per cent more infectious. 

The E484Q mutation is very similar to the one found in the South African and Brazil variants known as E484K, which can help the virus evade antibodies.

The South African variant is thought to make vaccines about 30 per cent less effective at stopping infections, but it’s not clear what effect it has on severe illness.  

Professor Sharon Peacock, of PHE, claimed there was ‘limited’ evidence of E484Q’s effect on immunity and vaccines. Lab studies have suggested it may be able to escape some antibodies, but to what degree remains uncertain.

How deadly is it? Scientists still don’t know for sure. But they are fairly certain it won’t be more deadly than the current variants in circulation in Britain.  

This is because there is no evolutionary benefit to Covid becoming more deadly. The virus’s sole goal is to spread as much as it can, so it needs people to be alive and mix with others for as long as possible to achieve this. 

And, if other variants are anything to go by, the Indian strain should not be more lethal.

There is still no conclusive evidence to show dominant versions like the Kent and South African variants are more deadly than the original Covid strain – even though they are highly transmissible. 

Doctors in India claim there has been a sudden spike in Covid admissions among people under 45, who have traditionally been less vulnerable to the disease.

There have been anecdotal reports from medics that young people make up two third of new patients in Delhi. In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year.

There is still no proof younger people are more badly affected by the new strain. 

Should we be worried? Scientists are unsure exactly how transmissible or vaccine-resistant the Indian variant is because it hasn’t been studied thoroughly.

The fact it appears to have increased infectivity should not pose an immediate threat to the UK’s situation because the current dominant Kent version appears equally or more transmissible. 

It will take a variant far more infectious strain than that to knock it off the top spot.

However, if the Indian version proves to be effective at slipping past vaccine-gained immunity, then its prevalence could rise in Britain as the immunisation programme squashes the Kent variant. 

The UK currently classes the Indian strain as a ‘Variant Under Investigation’, a tier below the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants. But there are calls to move it up to the highest category.

Scientists tracking the constantly-evolving virus say it’s still not clear if India’s third wave has been caused by the variant, or if it emerged at the same time by coincidence. 



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