As the virus epidemic engulfs overcrowded hospitals in cities and expands into rural areas, India is setting almost regular records for new infections and deaths.
The world of 1.3 billion people recorded 3,689 deaths on Sunday, the largest single-day increase in the pandemic, bringing the total to more than 215,000.
A little more than 400,000 illnesses were added, taking the total number of cases to more than 19.5 million.
The latest figures came as medical equipment – including oxygen-generation plants – was flown into the capital New Delhi from France and Germany as part of a huge international effort.
“We are here because we are bringing help that… will save lives,” Germany’s ambassador to India, Walter J. Lindner, said as 120 ventilators arrived late Saturday.
“Out there the hospitals are full. People are sometimes dying in front of the hospitals. They have no more oxygen. Sometimes (they are dying) in their cars.”
French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said his country wanted to show solidarity with India.
“The world won’t be safe until we are all safe. So it’s a matter of urgency,” he said early Sunday following the delivery of eight oxygen-generation plants and dozens of ventilators from France.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said late Sunday his government was investigating whether nitrogen plants could be used to produce oxygen instead.
On Sunday, India’s eastern state of Odisha became the latest region to order a lockdown to slow the spread of the pathogen.
The nation’s worst-hit city, Delhi, on Saturday, extended its own lockdown by another week.
Hospitals in the capital continued to issue SOS calls for oxygen on social media, with the latest appeal posted by a children’s hospital on Twitter on Sunday.
The plea came a day after up to a dozen patients died at a Delhi hospital amid an oxygen shortage, local media reported.
There are also growing fears about the surge of the virus in smaller towns and rural regions where health infrastructure is already patchy and limited.
India opened its immunisation drive to all adults on Saturday, but stocks are running short, and under-45s can only enrol online.
“It is now a must. We are seeing an increase in the number of people who are testing positive “Megha Srivastava, a data scientist, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) outside a vaccination centre in Delhi.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, told The Times newspaper on Saturday during a business trip to Britain that he was being hounded by political and business leaders for more supplies.
“‘Threats’ is an understatement,” he told the paper. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine.”
Experts have called on the government to allow more flexibility in India’s vaccine rollout, particularly in poorer rural areas where there is lower internet penetration.
“We should procure sufficient vaccines, then plan bottom-up through… the primary health center level,” Bangalore-based public health expert Hemant Shewade told AFP.
“Take vaccines to the people the way we have implemented our polio and measles campaigns.”
Alarm bells are also ringing in other countries in densely populated South Asia.
“Infections have surged beyond the capacity of the health system,” Nepal’s health ministry said Friday as it warned that hospital beds were running out amid a spike in infections.
On Sunday, the Himalayan nation reported a record-breaking 7,137 new incidents.
According to ministry statistics, nearly 40% of those assessed had a positive outcome.
Lockdowns or partial lockdowns have been imposed by the government in nearly half of Nepal’s 77 districts.
On Saturday, the number of regular infections in Sri Lanka reached a new high of 1,699, prompting officials to tighten restrictions on travel and activity in the island country.
“We could face an India-type crisis very soon unless we arrest the current trend of infections,” said Sudath Samaraweera, chief epidemiologist.