Two southern states in India became the latest to declare lockdowns, as COVID-19 cases surge at breakneck speed across the country and pressure mounts on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to implement a nationwide shutdown.
At more than 300,000, Karnataka’s capital, Bengaluru, has the highest active caseload of any Indian city.
However, experts have said the worst is still ahead as India’s third-largest city buckles under oxygen shortages, overrun hospitals and crowded crematoriums.
In Tamil Nadu State, the lockdown announcement followed a daily record of more than 26,000 cases on Friday.
Infections have swelled in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies.
Yesterday, India reported 401,078 confirmed cases, including a record high of 4,187 deaths. Overall, India has more than 21.8 million confirmed infections and nearly 240,000 deaths. Experts have said even those dramatic tolls are undercounts.
One doctor in Bengaluru said he has had to reject patients “left, right and center” as his hospital struggled to find more oxygen.
“The problem is the demand is so high that we need constant oxygen,” Shanti Hospital and Research Center medical director Sanjay Gururaj said.
The hospital is sending a truck twice a day to oxygen plants on the outskirts of the city to bring back 12 jumbo oxygen cylinders.
“In normal times, this would have lasted over two weeks — now, it lasts just over a day,” he added.
The state’s oxygen shortages prompted the high court on Wednesday to order the federal government to increase the daily liquid medical oxygen supplied to Karnataka.
The ruling came after 24 COVID-19 patients died in a government hospital on Monday. It is unclear how many of them died due to the lack of oxygen, but an investigation is ongoing.
Modi has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus in the current surge to poorly equipped state governments and faced accusations of doing too little.
His government has said that it is doing everything it can, amid a “once-in-a-century crisis.”
Meanwhile, many medical experts, opposition leaders and even Indian Supreme Court judges are calling for national restrictions, saying that a patchwork of state rules is insufficient to quell the rise in infections.
Experts have said that the surge in Bengaluru is fast eclipsing other hard-hit cities like the capital, New Delhi, and Mumbai.
Cases have increased 100-fold since February, said Murad Banaji, a mathematician modeling COVID-19 growth in India, citing official data.
Test positivity has jumped to more than 30 percent, which indicates that the infection is much more widespread than confirmed figures, he added.
“Disaster was looming by early March, when cases started to shoot up,” he said. “Bangalore is more than a ticking time bomb right now — it is in the middle of an explosion.”
Bengaluru was previously known as Bangalore.
Much of the focus in the past few weeks has been on northern India, led by New Delhi, where television stations have broadcast images of patients lying on stretchers outside hospitals and of mass funeral pyres that burn throughout the night.
The situation unfurling in Karnataka has thrown attention to other southern states also battling a rise in cases. Daily cases have breached 20,000 for the past three days in Andhra Pradesh, leading to new restrictions there.
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