India’s coronavirus cases climbed again Friday, prompting the army to open up its hospitals in a desperate bid to control a massive humanitarian crisis created by an acute shortage of beds, medicines, and oxygen. With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much. Battling to find hospital beds, distraught people are flooding social media and messaging apps with heartbreaking pleas for oxygen, medicines, and room in intensive care units, the AP reports.
India’s army chief M.M. Naravane met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to discuss the crisis. Naravane said the sick can approach their nearest army hospitals for help. Troops are also assisting with imported oxygen tankers and vehicles where specialized skills are required, a government statement said. India has set a daily global record for more than a week with an average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge. Experts have blamed the surge on new, more contagious virus variants and mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue. On Thursday, millions voted in state elections in West Bengal with little or no regard to social distancing. (Crematoriums have been overwhelmed.)