Sun | Sep 24, 2023

Capital to lock down amid explosive virus surge

Published:Tuesday | April 20, 2021 | 12:08 AM
A health worker takes a mouth swab sample of a man to test for COVID-19 as others wait their turn to get tested at a hospital in Hyderabad, India, on Monday.
A health worker takes a mouth swab sample of a man to test for COVID-19 as others wait their turn to get tested at a hospital in Hyderabad, India, on Monday.


New Delhi imposed a weeklong lockdown Monday night to prevent the collapse of the Indian capital’s health system, which authorities said had been pushed to its limit amid an explosive surge in coronavirus cases.

In scenes familiar from surges elsewhere, ambulances catapulted from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed over the weekend, while patients lined up outside of medical facilities waiting to be let in. Ambulances also idled outside of crematoriums, carrying half a dozen dead bodies each. In an effort to combat the crisis, India announced that it would soon expand its vaccination campaign to all adults.

“People keep arriving, in an almost collapsing situation,” said Dr Suresh Kumar, who heads Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of New Delhi’s largest hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.

Just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic, the virus is now spreading at a rate faster than at any other time, said Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking infections in India.

The country is not alone. Several places in the world are seeing deepening crises, including Brazil and France, spurred in part by new variants. More than a year into the pandemic, deaths are on the rise again worldwide, running at nearly 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing, too. Over the weekend, the global death toll passed a staggering three million people.


But the surge has been devastating in India and has weighed heavily on the global efforts to end the pandemic since the country is a major vaccine producer but has been forced to delay exports of shots abroad, hampering campaigns in developing countries, in particular. In a sign of the high stakes, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines, asked US President Joe Biden on Twitter last week to lift the US embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make the shots.

As it battles the rising cases, India announced on Monday that it would vaccinate everyone older than 18 from May 1. The country began inoculating health workers in mid-January and later extended the drive to people over 45. India has so far administered 120 million doses to its population of nearly 1.4 billion.

The country reported over 270,000 infections on Monday, its highest daily rise since the pandemic started. It has now recorded more than 15 million infections and more than 178,000 deaths. Experts agree that even these figures are likely undercounts. Amid the rise in cases, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called off a trip to New Delhi.

The city of 29 million people has fewer than 100 beds with ventilators, and fewer than 150 beds available for patients needing critical care. Similar strains can be seen in other parts of the vast country, where the fragile health system has been underfunded for decades and a failure to prepare for the current surge has left hospitals buckling under the pressure of mounting infections.