India’s COVID-19 crisis worsened overnight with the army called in to help oxygen-starved hospitals in New Delhi and student doctors pulled out of training to help.
Another record surge in cases and deaths came as the Indian Premier League cricket competition was thrown into turmoil as its bubble for players was burst, forcing foreign players including Australian vice captain Pat Cummins into isolation.
The Indian COVID variant also appears to have spread into Indonesia.
The world’s worst coronavirus surge
India postponed exams for trainee doctors and nurses on Monday, freeing them up to fight the world’s worst surge of COVID cases and deaths under the weight of new cases and hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen.
The total number of infections in India so far rose to just short of 20 million, propelled by a twelfth straight day of more than 300,000 new cases.
Medical experts say actual numbers in India could be five to 10 times higher than those reported. Hospitals have filled to capacity, supplies of medical oxygen have run short, and morgues and crematoriums have been overloaded with corpses.
Desperate for oxygen cylinders
Patients are dying on hospital beds, in ambulances and in carparks outside.
“Every time we have to struggle to get our quota of our oxygen cylinders,” said B.H. Narayan Rao, a district official in the southern town of Chamarajanagar, where 24 COVID-19 patients died, some from a suspected shortage of oxygen supplies.
“It’s a day-to-day fight,” added Rao, as he described the hectic scramble for supplies.
Offering a glimmer of hope, the health ministry said positive cases relative to the number of tests fell on Monday for the first time since at least April 15.
Army called in to help
The authorities in the Indian capital Delhi have called for help from the army as the city grapples with the brutal second wave of COVID cases.
Hospitals in the city are in crisis, with intensive care beds full and an acute shortage of medical oxygen.
Delhi’s government wants the army to run COVID care facilities and intensive care units.
Indian variant reaches Indonesia
The two cases of the Indian variant, known as B.1.617, have been found in Jakarta, while the minister said a variant first discovered in South Africa was also detected in Bali.
“We need to contain these cases, while there are still only a few of them,” Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a virtual conference.
Scientists are studying whether the B.1.617 variant is to blame for India’s devastating second wave of infections.
The variant has now reached at least 17 countries including Britain, Switzerland and Iran, prompting some governments to close their borders to people traveling from India.
Authorities in Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, have banned the traditional mass exodus where people visit relatives for the Eid al-Fitr festival for a second year to curb COVID-19 transmission.
“Do not return to your hometown. Do not go on holiday in your hometown. Be patient,” Doni Monardo, the chief of Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force, told the same news conference.
But before the ban comes into force on Thursday some were leaving now to beat the deadline.
“I just wanted to go home, what’s important is that we adhere to health protocols,” said Dasum, a 35-year-old driver from Central Java, speaking at a Jakarta bus station.
Indonesia has reported more than 1.67 million virus infections and 45,700 deaths since the start of the pandemic, though cases have been declining since peaking in January.