Crematoriums overwhelmed as COVID cases spike in India

India has set a new global record for a rise in daily coronavirus cases for a fifth straight day, while deaths from COVID-19 also jumped by an all-time high over the last 24 hours on Monday.

Burial grounds in New Delhi are running out of space. In the central city of Bhopal, some crematoriums have increased their capacity from dozens of pyres to more than 50. Yet there are still hours-long waits.

At the city’s Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat crematorium, workers said they cremated more than 110 people, even as government figures in the entire city of 1.8 million put the total number of virus deaths at just 10.

The unprecedented rush of bodies has forced the crematorium to skip individual ceremonies and exhaustive rituals that Hindus believe release the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

The southern Indian state of Karnataka, home to technology and outsourcing hub Bengaluru, will impose a lockdown for 14 days starting from April 27 evening.

Karnataka is the latest region to enter a lockdown after similar curbs in many parts of India, which is battling a massive second wave of infections that has pressured its health system.

Bengaluru, a city of 12 million, reported more than 20,000 new infections on Sunday, its highest single-day tally so far and second only to the capital, Delhi.

With 352,991 new cases, India sees a new world record for a rise in daily coronavirus cases. India’s total caseload has now crossed 17 million, according to health ministry data – behind only the US.

Deaths from COVID-19 also jumped by an all-time high, with a record 2,812 fatalities reported over the last 24 hours, to reach a total of 195,123.

The death toll could be a huge undercount, as suspected cases are not included, and many COVID-19 deaths are being attributed to underlying conditions.

The IPL has attracted criticism for continuing even as the country’s healthcare system reels from more than 350,000 daily infections and almost 3,000 deaths a day from the virus.

India star spinner Ravichandran Ashwin also withdrew from the IPL Twenty20 tournament on Sunday.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced that the Delhi government will provide free COVID-19 vaccinations to people above the age of 18 years.

“Today we approved the purchase of 1.34 crore (13.4 million) vaccines,” he said in a virtual press conference.

Thailand has suspended issuing travel documents from India over concerns of imported coronavirus cases, as more venues were closed in Bangkok.

The Thai embassy in New Delhi said in a statement that certificates of entry for non-Thai nationals travelling from India will be suspended until further notice.

Bangladesh has announced it is closing its land border with India in response to the record-breaking infection rates and death toll in the neighbouring country.

The ban, which excludes transportation of goods, will remain effective for 14 days from Monday, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told reporters in Dhaka.

Bangladeshi citizens stranded in India will be allowed to return home through three specific border points, provided they produce a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their entry, a Foreign Ministry announcement said.

Air travel between the two countries has remained suspended since Bangladesh halted international passenger flights on April 14 as part of a nationwide lockdown.

The Netherlands will also prohibit passenger flights from India from Monday at 6pm (16:00 GMT) until May 1 due to fears over a new variant of COVID-19, the ministry of transport said.

The ban, announced on Sunday, does not include cargo flights or planes carrying medical personnel.

Several nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, have offered support as India’s under-funded healthcare system struggles to cope with the increasing demand for medical oxygen and hospital beds.

Britain will do “everything it can to alleviate the suffering” of people in India, the UK’s defense minister said.

The UK is set to send 600 pieces of medical equipment including ventilators to India to help the country in the fight against the latest wave of infections.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the first of nine plane-loads of kit would arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Britain would use military planes or charter other aircraft in order to get the supplies to India to help the country “in their time of need.”

The assistance package includes 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators from surplus UK stocks.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has announced $1.8mn in funding to a non-profit organisation Give India and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help the country’s fight against the virus.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also vowed “to use its voice, resources, and technology to aid relief efforts, and support the purchase of critical oxygen concentration devices”.

France will send oxygen respiratory equipment to India in the coming days, the office of French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Earlier on Sunday, the European Commission activated its EU Civil Protection Mechanism and said it was seeking to send oxygen and medicine to India after receiving a request from Delhi.

The US will “immediately” make supplies of vaccine-production material, as well as therapeutics, tests, ventilators and protective equipment available to India.

“The United States has identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India,” a White House statement said.

Western nations including Britain, France, Canada and Germany have also pledged help.

Lens/News agencies

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