BRITAIN spearheaded the desperate fight against India’s Covid apocalypse — flying in the first life-saving aid to reach virus-ravaged capital New Delhi today.
Some 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators were among 600 pieces of medical gear sent to help ease pressure on overwhelmed hospitals as medics warned that the emergency in a nation of 1.4billion was “beyond crisis point”.
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Harrowing scenes overshadowed the first rays of hope as children’s playgrounds and city parks were filled with blazing funeral pyres.
Hundreds of flower-decked victims were ceremonially burned because the nation’s overstretched crematoria were too busy to cope with the death toll. An ever-growing line of shrouded bodies snaked along streets up to the Shubash Nagar facility in New Delhi.
The city’s cremation coordinator Jitender Singh Shanty, who runs a site dealing with 100 victims a day, said: “People are just dying, dying and dying. If we get more bodies then we will cremate on the road. There is no more space here.”
Experts warn of two weeks of hell as India’s virulent Covid variant rips through the country — which currently accounts for 40 per cent of the world’s cases. The official death toll climbed to 200,389 yesterday.
There were 314,554 cases and another 2,509 deaths — marginal falls on the previous two days, which followed five consecutive days on which India had the world’s highest infection rate.
Experts believe the death toll could be five times higher and it is projected that the virulent, more deadly variant could wipe out up to 5,700 people a day before the current wave peaks.
Indian PM Narendra Modi has been criticised for his response to the country’s current second Covid wave and its Supreme Court has launched an investigation into the steps taken.
In south eastern city Chennai, critics said officials should be charged with murder for allowing mass rallies to take place without proper social distancing.
'Sadly a drop in the ocean'
Embattled Mr Modi has finally mobilised efforts to help deal with the catastrophe, his government rushing 44 oxygen generating plants into service.
Patients have been dying in the streets as hospitals run out amid the naked greed of black market racketeers who have sent the price of the gas soaring higher than gold.
“Oxygen Express” trains have begun ferrying cylinders to New Delhi and recently retired army medics have been recalled to work in hospitals to replace regular doctors who have caught Covid or collapsed exhausted.
Government adviser and Mumbai doctor Zarir Udwadia said yesterday that the British aid shipment, although very welcome, was “sadly a drop in the ocean” and suggested more vaccine was the best weapon against Covid. But Downing Street later warned the UK was currently unable to send more life-saving drugs to India after backing the Covax programme supplying vaccine to poorer nations.
A spokesman said: “We don’t have surplus doses. We committed in February to sending excess doses from the UK’s supply to the Covax procurement pool and to countries in need once they are available. Right now, we are moving through the UK prioritisation list for our domestic rollout and we don’t have surplus doses, but we will keep this under review.”
But Dr Udwadia insisted that India’s fight with Covid was “beyond crisis point”. He added: “It is really clear to me, as it is to any physician, that this wave — perhaps variant-driven — is far more infectious and probably far more lethal than the first wave.
“I see younger patients afflicted. I have lost two 35-year-olds, a husband and wife on ventilators, a day ago. This virus has a country of 1.4billion firmly in its stranglehold and it has really exposed our threadbare healthcare system and our failure of leadership.
“Instead of being asked to be vigilant, we heard self-congratulatory declarations of victory. We thought we had won, because luck seemed to be conquering the first wave — and all of that has been exposed.”
The US, France, Germany, Canada and the World Health Organisation have pledged to pitch in to help India.
US President Joe Biden spoke to Mr Modi to promise a share of up to 60million of its surplus vaccine doses.
Praising Indian support when America was the world’s hardest-hit nation last year, Biden tweeted: “India was there for us, we will be there for them.”
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