Fifty Indian doctors have died from coronavirus in a single day as the country struggles with a punishing second wave of infections and deaths.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said that 244 doctors had lost their lives to Covid-19 so far this year, with 50 dying on Sunday.
On Monday evening, the former president of the IMA, Dr KK Aggarwal died after ‘a lengthy battle with Covid-19,’ according to a post from his Twitter account.
The deaths bring the total number of Indian doctors to have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began last spring to nearly 1,000 it said.
This is thought to represent only a portion of the total number of Indian doctors likely to have died from coronavirus as the IMA only records deaths among its 350,000 members. India has more than 1,200,000 doctors, according to NDTV.
The IMA said that many doctors are yet to be vaccinated and are made increasingly vulnerable to catching the virus due to overwork.
The figures, published on Tuesday, came as India reported a record 4,329 fatalities in the last 24 hours.
Some 23,533 new cases were registered, which brings total number of infections recorded since the pandemic to more than 25million.
While the number of new daily infections remains high, Tuesday’s figures followed a trend of falling cases after infections dipped below 300,000 for the first time in weeks a day earlier.
Active cases decreased by more than 165,000 on Tuesday – the biggest dip in weeks. But deaths have continued to rise and hospitals are still swamped by patients.
India has recorded nearly 280,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began last spring. Both the number of deaths and total reported cases are thought to be vast undercounts.
Rural officials have warned that ‘entire families’ have been wiped out by the disease, with representatives from more than 18 towns and villages saying the extent of the devastation in rural communities is not being properly recorded.
Bloomberg reported that in Basi, a village about 1.5hours from the capital, New Delhi, about three-quarters of its 5,400 people have coronavirus and more than 30 have died in the last three weeks.
There are no health care facilities, doctors or oxygen canisters.
In the eastern state of Bihar last week, some 70 bodies of coronavirus victims were found floating in the Ganges River, while crematoriums around the country are struggling to cope with the number of corpses.
Rajesh Sharma, who owns a travel company in the Hindu pilgrimage city of Ujjan told Bloomberg that both the federal and Madhya Pradesh state governments ‘have failed us all’.
‘India had a full year to prepare, but except for sending vaccines out of the country for personal credit and glory nothing much was done,’ he said.
‘There are no hospital beds, no medicines. People have been left to die. In Ujjain and around, entire families died in the last two weeks.’
The government announced on Monday that 17 new labs will help to track variants, boosting India’s genome sequencing abilities as concern grows over a potentially worrisome variant first detected in the country.
The variant may spread more easily but the country has lagged behind in conducting the testing needed to track and better understand it.
The variant first identified in India has prompted global concern – most notably in the United Kingdom, where it has more than doubled in a week, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections.
India’s health crisis has been complicated by a powerful cyclone in one of the states where Covid-19 is spreading most quickly.
Tests were administered to 200,000 people evacuated from coastal districts of the western state of Gujarat before the cyclone struck late on Monday and efforts were being made to try to limit any spread of infections.
‘Masks have been arranged for people shifted to shelter homes,’ said Sandip Sagale, a top official in Ahmedabad, the main city in Gujarat.
‘Efforts are also being made to maintain social distancing.’
Vaccinations were suspended in the state for two days, while hospitals awaited back-up generators to keep power running and additional oxygen supplies.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said oxygen manufacturing and distribution was not disrupted.
Out of the more than 1,400 hospitals designated for treating COVID-19, power failures were reported in 16, and restored in 12, while the remaining four moved to back-up generators.
In neighbouring Maharashtra state, which was sideswiped by the cyclone on Monday, 1,000 coronavirus deaths were reported overnight – the worst toll nationwide. The infection rate in Maharashtra has soared 15% in the last two weeks, government data showed.
The pace of vaccination in Maharashtra has fallen 30% since peaking in early April, according to data from the government’s Co-WIN portal.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to more people than Brazil, rural areas have been severely hit, as healthcare systems have struggled to cope.
Incensed by scarce testing and tracing, a state court remarked on Monday the situation was turning to ‘God’s mercy’, and hurtling towards a ‘third wave’.
‘If this is the state of affairs of five districts, one can guess where we are leading people of this state to, i.e. (a) third wave of the pandemic,’ the state’s Allahabad High Court said.
Chandrakant Lahariya, a public policy and health systems expert, said in the Hindustan Times newspaper that India’s vaccine policy urgently needed a reset.
‘For six weeks now, India’s vaccination drive has been struggling. How long must one wait before acknowledging that what was planned is not working?
‘Part of the problem seems to be the fact that there is political decision-making in the areas that are purely technical. The political leadership should give a free hand to technical experts to decide and implement new strategies.’
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Monday that his administration would send at least 20 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.
Biden has been under pressure to share vaccines to help contain worsening epidemics from India to Brazil, where new, more contagious coronavirus variants have become rampant.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that India is unlikely to resume major exports of coronavirus vaccines until at least October as it diverts shots for domestic use, citing three government sources.
Battling the world’s biggest jump in coronavirus infections, India halted vaccine exports a month ago after donating or selling more than 66 million doses.
The move has left countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and many in Africa scrambling for alternate supplies.
The World Health Organization, which co-leads the global COVAX initiative, on Monday called on vaccine makers outside India to advance supplies to the programme given the shortfall from the South Asian country.
The sources, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to media on the subject, said India’s vaccination drive will now take priority.