People across India continue to scramble for life-saving medical supplies on Saturday and patients lay dying outside hospitals as the capital recorded the equivalent of one death from Covid-19 every five minutes.
India – for the third consecutive day – recorded over 3 lakh fresh infections, continuing the trend of registering the world's highest daily tally with 346,786 people testing positive out of 1,753,569 tested in the 24-hour period.
India's second wave has hit with such ferocity that hospitals are running out of oxygen, beds and antiviral drugs. Many patients are being turned away because there was no space for them, reports Reuters quoting doctors in Delhi.
A similar situation has prevailed all over India, media reports have said. The country's total Covid-19 tally reached 16,610,481 on Saturday. The single-day toll also made a new record as 2,624 people died, taking India's total death tally to 189,544.
Under the grim circumstances, the government has deployed military planes and trains to get oxygen to Delhi from the far corners of the country and overseas including Singapore.
The country has also decided to waive basic customs duty on the import of oxygen and related equipment for next three months with immediate effect.
Covid-19 second wave still rising
The number of cases in India started rising in February. While the rise at that time was limited to only a few states including Maharashtra, in March and April the second wave of the pandemic reached most of the states while India's vaccination drive was on.
The Covid-19 situation has become precarious in the past few days, as the staggering rise in the number of daily infections has been coupled with an acute shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and drugs, reports Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was concerned about the growing caseload in India, which on Thursday passed the previous global high of 297,430 recorded in January in the United States.
He also had said the situation in India is a devastating reminder of what the virus can do.
Hospitals overrun, oxygen crisis continue
Hospitals throughout India are being pushed to their limits by the influx of Covid-19 patients, and many are dying due to a shortage of medical oxygen, reports Indian media.
A top official at the Jaipur Golden Hospital in Delhi said 25 people died on Friday night due to a lack of medical oxygen, highlighting the deteriorating situation in the national capital's hospitals.
At Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in the northeast of the city, critical patients gasping for air arrived in ambulances and auto-rickshaws. Some waited for hours on trolleys outside and one, Shayam Narayan, died before being admitted, a death unlikely to be counted in the city's rising toll.
The system is broken, his younger brother Raj told the Hindustan Times. At the Jaipur Golden Hospital in Delhi, 20 people died overnight because of a lack of oxygen, an official told the media.
By air, by train and by road, India is scrambling to move large quantities of medical oxygen to hospitals in its capital New Delhi and other areas hit hard by a record surge of Covid-19.
The main problem is that medical oxygen is not reaching hospital beds in time. This delay is a product of where production units are located, a stretched distribution network, and what critics have said is bad planning, reports Reuters.
Several hospitals in Delhi, which have no significant oxygen production capacity, made frantic public calls this week seeking emergency supplies. Mass cremations are also taking place in the capital as the crematoriums there have run out of space.
With Covid-19 cases also swamping its neighbouring states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, oxygen facilities there are over-stretched attempting to meet local demand.
Taking a slew of measures to boost the availability of medical oxygen in the country amid the Covid surge, the central government on Saturday decided to waive basic customs duty on the import of oxygen and related equipment for next three months with immediate effect, PTI reported.
At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was also decided to exempt basic customs duty on the import of Covid vaccines with immediate effect for a period of three months, an Indian government statement have said.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday wrote to his counterparts in other states and Union territories requesting them to send the surplus of oxygen they may have to the Capital as the city faces acute shortage to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients.
"I am writing to all CMs requesting them to provide oxygen to Delhi, if they have spare. Though the central govt is also helping us, the severity of corona is such that all available resources are proving inadequate," he wrote on Twitter.
Leaders face rising public anger
As India grapples with record-breaking Covid-19 blows, the governments' failure in the face of the pandemic has given way to public anger.
Patients and their loved ones, unable to get the necessary care, have resorted to pleading on social media for medicine and open hospital beds. And experts who cautioned for months about a potential second wave are frustrated that their warnings went unheeded.
These grievances spilled over on social media in the past week. Tens of thousands of people took to Twitter with trending hashtags like #ResignModi, #SuperSpreaderModi, and #WhoFailedIndia.
Political figures, including state authorities and former officials, were among the voices calling for greater accountability and criticising the government's handling of the crisis.
Super rich flee the country
Eight private jets transporting India's super-rich – and possibly the coronavirus – arrived in London ahead of the UK's 4am travel ban.
According to the London Times, the last of the luxury planes, the VistaJet Bombardier Global 6000, which flew from Dubai to Mumbai on Thursday, landed at 3:15 am.
India has been added to the United Kingdom's "red list" of pandemic-affected nations. As of Friday, all Britons returning from India must stay in a government-approved hotel for ten days.
All non-British or non-Irish citizens will be barred from entering the country if they have spent the previous 10 days in India. As a "precautionary measure," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to postpone his own state visit to India scheduled for next week.
US rejects India's vaccine plea
The United States has turned down India's request for necessary vaccine components saying it world prioritise its own citizens first.
"We have a special responsibility to the American people," US State Department spokesperson said while responding to journalists. The implied subtext reiterated the America First policy, Times of India reported.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar has held a couple of rounds of discussions with his counterpart Anthony Blinken on the easing of the US export embargo. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla has also held similar discussions with Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary.
Washington sources said although some US Congressmen have expressed support for India, this is going to be a difficult one.
Meanwhile, France, Australia and the European Union (EU) on Friday also offered support and solidarity to India amid the novel coronavirus crisis.