India's army opened up its hospitals on Friday as the daily tally of COVID-19 infections continued to climb.
More than 386,450 new cases were reported on Friday, bringing the total tally to 18.7 million since the beginning of the pandemic — the second-highest behind the US. The Health Ministry also reported that another 3,498 deaths had been counted, taking the death toll to 208,330.
India has set a daily global record for more than a week with an average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge.
Battling to find hospital beds, distraught people are flooding social media and messaging apps with heartbreaking pleas for oxygen, medicines and room in intensive care units.
India’s army chief M.M. Naravane met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to discuss the crisis.
Naravane said the sick can approach their nearest army hospitals for help. Troops were also assisting with imported oxygen tankers and vehicles where specialized skills are required, a government statement said.
Experts have blamed the surge on new, more contagious virus variants and mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue. On Thursday, millions voted in state elections in West Bengal with little or no regard to social distancing.
Health Minister Harash Vardhan expressed hope that assistance being sent by over 40 countries will plug the shortage in medical supplies. The United States is sending more than $100 million worth of items, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests.
The UK has also sent a first shipment of supplies while European Union member states are pooling resources. Japan, Australia and Russia have also promised help. The Indian air force also airlifted oxygen containers from Singapore, Dubai and Bangkok.
Brazil's deadliest month
The pandemic also continued to wreak havoc in Brazil, which on Thursday became the second country to officially top 400,000 COVID-19 deaths — April was Brazil’s deadliest month of the pandemic, with about 100,000 lives lost.
The country’s Health Ministry registered more than 4,000 deaths on two days early in the month, and its seven-day average topped out at above 3,100. That figure has tilted downward in the last two weeks, to less than 2,400 deaths per day, though on Thursday the Health Ministry announced another 3,001 deaths, bringing Brazil's total to 401,186.
Local health experts have celebrated the recent decline of cases and deaths, plus the eased pressure on the Brazilian health care system — but only modestly. They are apprehensive of another wave of the disease, like those seen in some European nations, due to a premature resumption of activity in states and cities combined with slow vaccination rollout.
Less than 6 per cent of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data, an online research site. President Jair Bolsonaro, who is now being investigated by a Senate panel over his administration's handling of the crisis, has repeated he will be the last to get a shot and he has attacked mayors and governors who enforce restrictions to control the virus' spread.
Shortly after the grim landmark was published, Bolsonaro said in a live broadcast on his social media channels that “a big number of deaths has been announced," adding that he is “sorry for every death." But he repeated his stance against social distancing measures.
“I pray to God so there is not a third wave” of the coronavirus, the president said. “But if the lockdown policies continue this country will be dragged to extreme poverty.”