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India records 320K cases as foreign help arrives

Last Updated Apr 27, 2021 at 6:24 am MDT

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a passenger to test for COVID-19 in a railway station in Gauhati, India, Monday, April 19, 2021. India's health system is collapsing under the worst surge in coronavirus infections that it has seen so far. Medical oxygen is scarce. Intensive care units are full. Nearly all ventilators are in use, and the dead are piling up at crematoriums and graveyards. Such tragedies are familiar from surges in other parts of the world — but were largely unknown in India. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

NEW DELHI — India recorded more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus infection Tuesday as a grim surge of illness and death weighed on the country and its sinking health system started getting much-needed support from foreign nations.

Tuesday’s 323,144 new infections raised India’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 the past 24 hours, with roughly 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. The latest fatalities pushed India’s fatalities to 197,894, behind the U.S., Brazil and Mexico. Experts say even these figures are probably an undercount.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos Tuesday of the first shipment of medical aid India received from Britain. It included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators.

Other nations like the U.S., Germany, Israel, France and Pakistan have also promised medical aid to India. The countries have said they will supply oxygen, diagnostic tests, treatments, ventilators and protective gear to help India at the time of crisis which World Health Organization’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called “beyond heartbreaking.”

The surge, spurred by insidious new variants of coronavirus, has undermined the Indian government’s premature claims of victory over the pandemic. The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is facing a chronic shortage of space on its intensive care wards. Hospitals are experiencing oxygen shortages and many people are being forced to turn to makeshift facilities for mass burials and cremations as the country’s funeral services have become overwhelmed.

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.

The White House was moving to share raw materials for the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine with India by diverting some U.S. orders to the vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India.

White House COVID-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients told The Associated Press that the Biden administration was working to satisfy other “key requests” from the Indian government, namely for personal protective equipment, tests, therapeutics and supplies of oxygen and respiratory assistance devices.

Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also expected to soon travel to India to assist with its virus response.

The Associated Press