May 17. 2021. 5:12

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Countries rush to India’s aid as Covid-19 cases overwhelm its hospitals

People wait to have empty oxygen tanks filled at a shop in Delhi at the weekend: In the city, one person is reportedly dying of Covid-19 every four minutes. Photograph: Atul Loke/New York Times

Record numbers of Covid-19 deaths and crippling medical shortages have forced India to turn to global allies for help as the country battles a catastrophic second wave of infections.

Emergency medical supplies are being airlifted in from the United Kingdom, the United States and European Union countries as India reported 349,691 new cases on Sunday, a new global record for daily coronavirus infections for the fourth day in a row.

The surge in new infections has pushed the country’s health system to breaking point, with hospitals running out of critical supplies of oxygen and available beds to treat the seriously ill.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths soared to 2,767, India’s highest number in the pandemic, bringing the country’s death toll from the virus to 192,311.

Oxygen trains

In the Indian capital, New Delhi, one person is reportedly dying of Covid-19 every four minutes. More than 20 patients died at one private hospital after oxygen supplies ran low.

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Shortages have pushed the government to run special trains to send oxygen to the worst-hit cities and some hospitals have been forced to turn away patients.

Indian prime minister said the second wave “had shaken the nation” as allies rushed to the country’s aid, pledging to send shipments of oxygen, ventilators and other emergency supplies.

The US promised to “rapidly deploy” support to India’s healthcare system, while the UK started sending hundreds of oxygen concentrators and ventilators following a request.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was “alarmed by the epidemiological situation in India” and was “pooling resources” in support.

Variant of virus

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, whose father is from India, tweeted that the country was facing “a terrible second wave causing suffering beyond our comprehension”, and that the Government here was assessing a plan to provide oxygen and ventilators to India, working with the EU.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said plans to send aid were at an “advanced stage”.

The suspected role of a new “B1617” variant in India’s second wave has alarmed public health experts, with the Health Service Executive saying last week three cases of the variant have been detected in Ireland.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said it was likely that India would be added to the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine list very shortly.

Mr Varadkar’s uncle and cousin were hospitalised during India’s first wave last year, but his relatives have not been affected by this latest surge, and his older relatives have been vaccinated.