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New Delhi to lock down amid devastating virus surge

India's capital to lock down

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.

“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.

Most desperately need oxygen, Kumar said. But the city is facing shortages of oxygen and some medicine, according to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who told reporters that the new stringent measures being imposed were required to “prevent a collapse of the health system,” which had “reached its limit.”

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 surge is devastating for 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 U.S. President Joe Biden on Twitter last week to lift the U.S. embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make the shots.

The rise in cases comes amid setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and deepening crises in many places beyond India, including Brazil and France. Over the weekend, the global death toll from the coronavirus passed a staggering 3 million people Saturday.

India 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.

In the Himalayan Jammu state in India’s north, the weekly average of COVID-19 cases has increased 14-fold in the past month. In Telengana state in southern India, home to Hyderabad city where most of India's vaccine makers are based, the weekly average of infections has increased 16-fold in the past month.



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