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COVID-19 catastrophe in India worsens as cases and deaths mount

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In this April 29, 2021, file photo, relatives react to heat emitting from the multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium in the outskirts of New Delhi, India.
In this April 29, 2021, file photo, relatives react to heat emitting from the multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium in the outskirts of New Delhi, India.   -   Copyright  Amit Sharma/AP Photo
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India has been facing an alarming surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths that experts fear will not abate anytime soon.

Bodies have been piling up in the country's worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic, blamed mostly on more contagious variants and the government's allowance of Hindu festivals and political rallies.

The country of 1.4 billion had passed more than 20 million COVID-19 infections on Tuesday and 220,000 deaths.

The health ministry reported 357,229 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours and 3,449 deaths.

Yet even those figures are likely underestimated due to problems with testing and reporting in the country.

Dr Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in the US, said he is concerned that Indian policymakers he has been in contact with believe things will improve in the next few days.

“I’ve been ... trying to say to them, 'If everything goes very well, things will be horrible for the next several weeks. And it may be much longer,'” he said.

Jha said policymakers need to focus on classic public health interventions including targeted lockdowns, testing, mask-wearing and avoiding gatherings: "That is what’s going to break the back of this surge".

AP Photo/Channi Anand
Indians crowd a vegetable market in Jammu, India, Tuesday, May 4, 2021.AP Photo/Channi Anand

Many people are dying as hospitals fill up and oxygen supplies remain scarce.

The New Delhi High Court announced it will start punishing government officials if supplies of oxygen allocated to hospitals are not delivered. “Enough is enough,” it said.

Many have criticised the authorities for a failure to shore up the health system before this wave of cases.

India has the world's largest vaccine producer, but is short on jabs, the result of lagging manufacturing and raw material shortages. The country is vaccinating about 2.1 million people daily, or just around 0.15% of its population.