‘The next two weeks are going to be hell,’ doctor in India warns

By | April 27, 2021

India’s Covid second wave driven by ‘far more infectious and far more lethal’ variant that has pushed hospitals ‘beyond crisis point’, doctor warns as courts call for officials to face MURDER charges

  • Dr Zarir Udwadia, a physician in hard-hit Mumbai, believes India’s brutal Covid second wave is being driven by ‘a far more infectious and probably far more lethal’ variant of the disease
  • It has caused cases and deaths to soar, with another 323,000 infections and 2,700 fatalities reported today
  • Dr Udwadia blamed ‘complacency’ for the crisis and urged countries to send vaccines to protect people 
  • Meanwhile judges in Chennai said officials should face murder charges for failing to enforce social distancing

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India’s Covid second wave is being driven by a ‘far more infectious and probably far more deadly’ strain of Covid that has pushed hospitals ‘beyond crisis point’ in just a matter of weeks, a top medic has warned.

Dr Zarir Udwadia, a physician in hard-hit Mumbai and a government advisor, said India is now ‘in the stranglehold’ of a variant that has sent cases and deaths soaring and has already spread overseas, including to the UK.

‘It is really clear to me as it is to any physician, that this wave, perhaps variant-driven, is far more infectious and probably far more lethal than the first wave,’ he told the BBC’s Today programme.

‘I see younger patients afflicted, I have lost two 35-year-olds, a husband and wife on ventilators, a day ago.’ 

Describing the scenes in Mumbai – the first Indian city to be struck down – Dr Udwadia said he is seeing ‘ward after ward full of patients struggling to breathe, on oxygen, on ventilators’ and blamed ‘complacency’ as the main cause of India’s current crisis.

‘We let down our collective guard, and we were urged to by our leaders. Instead of being asked to be vigilant we heard self-congratulatory declarations of victory,’ he said.

‘We thought we had won, because luck seemed to be conquering the first wave and all of that has been exposed as mere self-assured hubris.’ 

Meanwhile Judges in Madaras High Court, in the city of Chennai, went further – calling on local officials to face murder charges for allowing mass rallies to take place without proper precautions in place.  

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is wheeled inside a COVID-19 hospital for treatment, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Ahmedabad, India, April 26

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is wheeled inside a COVID-19 hospital for treatment, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Ahmedabad, India, April 26

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walks past the funeral pyres of those who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a mass cremation at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, April 26

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walks past the funeral pyres of those who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a mass cremation at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, April 26

In this aerial picture taken on April 26, burning pyres of victims who lost their lives due to the Covid-19 coronavirus are seen at a cremation ground in New Delhi

In this aerial picture taken on April 26, burning pyres of victims who lost their lives due to the Covid-19 coronavirus are seen at a cremation ground in New Delhi

Family members and relatives wearing protective gear perform final rites of a victim who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus at an open crematorium in Bangalore on April 26

Family members and relatives wearing protective gear perform final rites of a victim who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus at an open crematorium in Bangalore on April 26

Blasting the national election commission for safety failings, the judges wrote in a ruling on Monday: ‘You have been singularly lacking any kind of exercise of authority. 

‘You have not taken measures against political parties holding rallies despite every order of this court saying “maintain Covid protocol, maintain Covid protocol.”

‘You should be put up on murder charges probably,’ Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said, according to the Indian Express

India is suffering from the world’s worst second wave of Covid, driven by a new variant that is thought to be both more infectious and more deadly – though scientists are still investigating its exact affects.

Five straight days of record-breaking infections peaked above 350,000 cases in a single day on Monday. They fell back slightly to 323,144 today, though experts warn that is likely the result of less testing at the weekend and not a sign that the wave is slowing.

Indian health authorities also reported another 2,771 deaths from the virus today – slightly lower than Monday’s count but again amid warnings that many deaths are going uncounted. 

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Udwadia summed up the situation by saying: ‘It is beyond crisis point.

‘This virus has a country of 1.4billion firmly in its stranglehold and its really exposed our threadbare healthcare system and our failure of leadership.

‘We let down our collective guard, and we were urged to by our leaders. Instead of being asked to be vigilant we heard self-congratulatory declarations of victory, we thought we had won… and all of that has been exposed as mere self-assured hubris.

‘Then there is the glacially slow pace of vaccination. Five per cent of this country has been vaccinated unlike the inspiring example set by the UK. We are 600 days away at this rate from even reaching herd immunity. 

‘There was initial vaccine hesitancy, vaccine skepticism like there were in many parts of Europe but now there is vaccine desperation.

‘We patted ourselves on the back, telling ourselves we are vaccine producers for the world, and the government lapped up this hype. They didn’t ramp up production, they were just lulled by complacency.’

Asked what the world can do to help, Dr Udwadia pointed to the suggestion that the US could send 30million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that are in its stockpile but not yet approved for use to India instead.

He called on more countries to donate spare doses to help protect people from infection, while urging the government to ramp up domestic production. 

As the situation deteriorates, the first batch of British medical aid arrived in the country today with 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators to help the country deal with an acute shortage of ICU beds and oxygen tanks.  

The package includes 495 oxygen concentrators as well as ventilators. The equipment is set to arrive in the Indian capital early on Tuesday morning

The package includes 495 oxygen concentrators as well as ventilators. The equipment is set to arrive in the Indian capital early on Tuesday morning

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos of British medical aid arriving in India today, saying packages included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos of British medical aid arriving in India today, saying packages included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos of the aid arriving along with a message saying India ‘appreciates’ the help. The US, Germany, Israel, France and Pakistan have also promised top send medical aid.

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Sachdev said: ‘The situation is critical right now. 

‘This pandemic is the worst we have ever seen until now. The next two weeks are going to be hell for us.’

Pointing to a young woman on a ventilator, he said: ‘That woman should be in ICU now. 

‘She’s been here for two days because there’s no beds in intensive care.’  

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people is facing a chronic shortage of space on its intensive care wards. Hospitals are experiencing oxygen shortages and many people are being forced to turn to makeshift facilities for mass burials and cremations as the country’s funeral services have become overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, in a bid to tackle the shortage of beds, Indian authorities are turning to train carriages, which have been converted into isolation wards.

India has also started airlifting oxygen tankers to states in need. Special trains with oxygen supplies are also running in the country. 

The Indian healthcare system has struggled to cope with a huge surge in cases, leaving patients’ families begging for help on social media and the capital New Delhi forced to extend its strict lockdown. 

The United States on Sunday led international pledges of support for India as the country grappled with worsening Covid-19 crisis with record daily death rates and severe medical shortages. 

President Joe Biden said the United States was ‘determined to help India in its time of need,’ immediately making available supplies of vaccine-production material, therapeutics, tests, ventilators and protective equipment. 

France plans to assist India with oxygen capacity in the coming days to help the country cope with a record surge in Covid-19 infections, the French presidency said Sunday. 

A British Airways flight loaded with 600 pieces of medical equipment took off from London Heathrow bound for New Delhi this evening. 

The package includes 495 oxygen concentrators as well as ventilators. The equipment is set to arrive in the Indian capital early on Tuesday morning. 

The UK plans to send a total of nine airline containers of supplies this week, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators. 

India’s surging Covid second wave has so overwhelmed crematoriums that grieving families are being forced to burn victims in their own gardens.  

India's surging Covid second wave has so overwhelmed crematoriums that grieving families are being forced to burn victims in their own gardens. Pictured: a crematorium in Delhi

India’s surging Covid second wave has so overwhelmed crematoriums that grieving families are being forced to burn victims in their own gardens. Pictured: a crematorium in Delhi

In Delhi, 348 deaths were recorded on Friday, one every four minutes, and in the southern state of Karnataka, the government has been forced to allow families to cremate or bury victims in their own farms, land or gardens

In Delhi, 348 deaths were recorded on Friday, one every four minutes, and in the southern state of Karnataka, the government has been forced to allow families to cremate or bury victims in their own farms, land or gardens

The home ceremonies have to comply with health guidelines but it is hoped the move will ease the pressure on crematoriums and grave diggers

The home ceremonies have to comply with health guidelines but it is hoped the move will ease the pressure on crematoriums and grave diggers

People carry oxygen cylinders after refilling them in a factory amid a shortage of medical supplies due to the surging second wave

People carry oxygen cylinders after refilling them in a factory amid a shortage of medical supplies due to the surging second wave

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is seen inside an ambulance waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment in Ahmedabad

A patient wearing an oxygen mask is seen inside an ambulance waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment in Ahmedabad

A man performs the last rites of his relative as pyres of Covid-19 deceased people burn at a crematorium in New Delhi

A man performs the last rites of his relative as pyres of Covid-19 deceased people burn at a crematorium in New Delhi

Relatives wearing PPE kit mourning next to pyres of Covid-19 deceased people at a crematorium in New Delhi. India Health Ministry recorded a total of 17 millions infections 192,000 death and 14.1 Millions recovered since the beginning of the outbreak

Relatives wearing PPE kit mourning next to pyres of Covid-19 deceased people at a crematorium in New Delhi. India Health Ministry recorded a total of 17 millions infections 192,000 death and 14.1 Millions recovered since the beginning of the outbreak

In Delhi, 348 deaths were recorded on Friday, one every four minutes, and in the southern state of Karnataka, the government has been forced to allow families to cremate or bury victims in their own farms, land or gardens.

Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa said the situation was ‘out of control’, adding: ‘It is prudent to swiftly and respectfully dispose the body in a decentralised manner keeping in view the grieving circumstance and to avoid crowding in crematoriums and burial grounds.’

A construction entrepreneur from Bangalore told The Straits Times his family had to dig up their lawn to bury his father this week.   

Bangalore’s seven crematoriums have been working 24 hours a day as they try to manage four times their normal workload.

Bookings for wooden pyres in Ghaziabad have run out and bodies are having to be burnt in the spaces between the platforms.

One electric furnace even broke down and had to be repaired due to its excessive use, while a chimney in another furnace cracked from the constant heat. 

There are fears the situation could become even worse in the coming days, with senior virologists warning the second wave still has two weeks to run before it reaches the peak of 500,000 infections a day.

Shahid Jameel, director of biosciences at Ashoka University, said virus models suggest case numbers will continue to rise despite vaccination efforts.  

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday warned that the Indian economy – the sixth largest in the world – could falter as a result of a record spike in coronavirus cases, creating a drag for the global economy.

Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the Chamber, the biggest U.S. business lobby, said the risk of spillover effects was high given many U.S. companies use Indian workers to run their back-office operations.

‘We expect that this could get worse before it gets better,’ Brilliant told Reuters, citing a ‘real risk’ the Indian economy would falter given the circumstances. 

‘There’s a big concern about the draft on the economy by a devastating, spreading virus in India.’

Harrowing images from a makeshift crematorium in New Delhi today illustrated the extent of the pandemic in India, with Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford describing the situation as the 'tip of an iceberg' to a much larger crisis

Harrowing images from a makeshift crematorium in New Delhi today illustrated the extent of the pandemic in India, with Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford describing the situation as the ‘tip of an iceberg’ to a much larger crisis

Medical staff and relatives help a Covid-19 coronavirus patient to get in a car at a hospital in New Delhi

Medical staff and relatives help a Covid-19 coronavirus patient to get in a car at a hospital in New Delhi

India’s current fatality rate per 100,000 cases is 1.14 per cent, meaning if the nation reaches this anticipated peak there is the potential for 5,700 deaths per day

Experts said India became complacent in the winter, when new cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control. Authorities lifted restrictions, allowing for the resumption of big gatherings. 

India’s current fatality rate per 100,000 cases is 1.14 per cent, meaning if the nation reaches this anticipated peak there is the potential for 5,700 deaths per day.  

At least 20 coronavirus patients died overnight at New Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital on Friday as the ‘oxygen pressure was low,’ the hospital’s medical superintendent Dr Baluja said. 

He added: ‘Our supply was delayed by seven-eight hours on Friday night and the stock we received last night is only 40 per cent of the required supply.’

Elsewhere, at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, some 25 Covid-19 patients died on Thursday with reports suggesting low oxygen supplies were again the cause of the fatalities.

As overburdened hospitals were forced to turn away patients, Indian Air Force planes and designated Oxygen Express trains were deployed in a bid to speed up the supply of this crucial medical gas.   

Harrowing images from a makeshift crematorium in New Delhi on Saturday illustrated the extent of the pandemic in India, with Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford describing the situation as the ‘tip of an iceberg’ to a much larger crisis.      

The crematorium was set up outside a hospital in the capital by desperate people who ‘cannot cope’ with the number of dead – and were forced to say goodbye to their loved ones in mass services at ad hoc sites.

As she spoke, men pulled firewood into the site, with Ms Crawford explaining the dead had been arriving at the crematorium ‘virtually every second’ amid what she described as a ‘slightly chaotic’ vaccine roll-out.  

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