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Death Toll Mounts During India's Surge

Hospitals are filling up, while oxygen and ventilators are running out
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 20, 2021 7:10 PM CDT
Updated Apr 21, 2021 12:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – Seema Gandotra, sick with the coronavirus, gasped for breath in an ambulance for 10 hours as it tried unsuccessfully at six hospitals in India's sprawling capital to find an open bed. By the time she was admitted, it was too late; the 51-year-old died hours later. Rajiv Tiwari, whose oxygen levels began falling after he tested positive for the virus, has the opposite problem: He identified an open bed, but the resident of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, who's in his 30s, can't get to it. "There is no ambulance to take me to hospital," he said. Such tragedies are familiar from surges in other parts of the world—but were largely unknown in India, which was able to prevent a collapse in its health system last year through a harsh lockdown. But now they are everyday occurrences in the vast country, the AP reports, which is seeing its largest surge of the pandemic so far and watching its chronically underfunded health system crumble.

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Tests are delayed. Medical oxygen is scarce. Hospitals are understaffed and overflowing. Intensive care units are full. Nearly all ventilators are in use, and the dead are piling up at crematoriums and graveyards. India recorded over 250,000 new infections and over 1,700 deaths in the past 24 hours alone, and the UK announced a travel ban on most visitors from the country this week. India's wave of cases is contributing to a worldwide rise in infections, spurred in part by new, more contagious variants. At the same time, vaccination campaigns have seen setbacks in many places—and India's surge has only exacerbated that: The country is a major vaccine producer but was forced to delay deliveries of shots to focus on domestic demand. Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking India’s pandemic, said India failed to learn from surges elsewhere and take anticipatory measures. Now India's two largest cities have imposed strict lockdowns, the pain of which will fall inordinately on the poor.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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