India has recorded more than 5 million coronavirus cases, testing the country’s feeble healthcare system in tens of thousands of impoverished towns and villages.
- More than 90,000 cases were recorded in 24 hours
- Close to 0.35 per cent of the country’s population is or has been infected
- Experts warn the fatality rate could increase in coming weeks
India’s total coronavirus caseload is expected to surpass the United States’ tally of more than 6.6 million cases within weeks.
The Health Ministry reported 90,123 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising the confirmed total to more than 5 million, about 0.35 per cent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion population.
The ministry said 1,290 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 82,066.
India reported a record daily high of 97,570 cases on September 11 and has added more than 1 million cases this month alone.
Johns Hopkins University figures show the fatality rate among Indian coronavirus patients is 1.6 per cent, lower than the 3 per cent seen in the US and Brazil.
Experts warn India’s fatality rate could increase in coming weeks as lockdown restrictions are relaxed except in high-risk areas.
But authorities have ruled out imposing a second countrywide lockdown.
Indian hospitals scramble for oxygen
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said about 6 per cent of coronavirus patients were on oxygen.
Ravindra Khade Patil, a doctor who manages two private hospitals on the outskirts of Mumbai, spoke of the stress he faced trying to ensure he could supply his patients with oxygen.
Two days ago, the supplier of oxygen to his hospitals did not turn up at his usual time.
Dr Patil made frantic calls to the supplier and then to nearby hospitals and politicians, knowing that if the oxygen didn’t arrive on time, it would be too late for some of his most critically ill patients.
Finally, past midnight, thanks to pressure from a government official, the oxygen tanks arrived.
“Desperate patients have been calling me through the night but I don’t know when I will get stock,” Rishikhesh Patil, an oxygen supplier in the western city of Nashik, said.
In Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, the total requirement for oxygen cylinders stood at 5,000 cylinders, compared with 1,000 cylinders in normal times, a government official said.
More testing needed
Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases expert from Christian Medical College in the southern state of Vellore, said a further increase in the number of cases was inevitable.
But she said India could still try to restrict cases through a strategy of testing and isolating the affected places.
She said “the goal was for India to do enough testing to bring down the test positivity rate, or the fraction of tests that test positive, to less than 5 per cent or even less than 1 per cent.”
Most of India’s deaths are concentrated in its large cities, but smaller urban centres in Maharashtra, like Nagpur and Jalgaon, have also reported more than 1,000 deaths.
Maharashtra state is the worst-hit region, with more than 1 million cases, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. These states account for more than 60 per cent of coronavirus cases in the country.