India’s hospitals swamped by second virus wave as Covid-19 shots run low

Bloomberg | Updated on April 10, 2021

A police officer informs people about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine supplies at the gate of a vaccination centre, in Mumbai   -  REUTERS

Across India, reports are emerging of hospital beds running short and immunisation centers turning away people as they run out of vaccines.

India is facing an escalating health crisis, with its second wave of virus infections hitting record highs, overwhelming hospitals around the country as supplies of intensive care beds and vital drugs come under pressure.

Across India, from the wealthiest and also the worst-hit state of Maharashtra to its most populous, Uttar Pradesh, reports are emerging of hospital beds running short and immunisation centers turning away people as they run out of vaccines. India reported more than 1,45,000 new infections Saturday, and with over 13 million virus cases lags behind only the U.S. and Brazil.

Situation across India

Maharashtra’s Health Minister Rajesh Tope warned the state had about three days worth of shots in stocks and vaccination centers across the state were being forced to shut down, and later announced a strict weekend lockdown to try and contain the outbreak. Its capital, Mumbai, has currently used up all but 3% of its intensive care hospital beds.

India’s capital New Delhi -- which is operating under a nightly curfew -- reported more than 8,500 new infections on Friday, the highest so far in this year, with health care workers some of the worst affected. At Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the city’s top institutions, 37 doctors had been infected with Covid-19 with mostly mild symptoms, two people at the hospital said, asking not to be identified because the information wasn’t public.

“It’s going to be a horrible next two months,” said Shuchin Bajaj, a director at the Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, which runs 14 hospitals across north India. “The impact is ten times what it was last year. This time it seems to be affecting younger patients.”

In Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh’s capital, as many as 40 doctors at the state-run in King Georges’ Medical University College have been infected, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

The twelve-fold jump in India’s daily new infections, from some 11,000 in early February, comes as five Indian states are in the middle of conducting elections and northern Uttarakhand is holding the monthlong Kumbh Mela, a pilgrimage that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of devotees to the banks of the Ganges river.

In West Bengal, political leaders and campaigners are holding roadshows and rallies drawing thousands of people each day -- many without masks or social distancing -- to woo 73 million voters in the eight-phase election that will end on April 29. A new round of voting began on Saturday.

“The second wave is bigger and nastier than the first wave, but we have lost our coordinates to politics,” said Kunal Sarkar, a cardiologist at the Medica Super Specialty Hospital in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. “Politicians are happy gathering votes as the pandemic is on the rise.”

Struggling Hospitals

A state-run Mumbai hospital had run out of ICU and oxygen beds, a doctor who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information said.

There were also reports of shortages of Remdesivir, a broad spectrum anti-viral medication used to treat Covid-19, Bajaj said, adding that getting supplies of the drug was becoming difficult at his hospitals.

Last month India paused exports of Covid-19 vaccines to focus on its domestic requirement, a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-touted vaccine diplomacy efforts. The country sent out more than 64 million shots between mid-January and March, 10.5 million as grants or aid and another 18 million for the WHO-led Covax initiative.

India has administered a total of 98 million doses to 3.6% of its population, of which 6% have received one dose and only about 0.9% have received the two shots required, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. This is well below the country’s target of immunizing 300 million people by August.

“The only good news that we know now what needs to be done,” said Bajaj. “We know what the warning signs are. We’re not experimenting with patients.”

Published on April 10, 2021

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