India is nearing 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths as the country reported over 352,000 new cases Monday. The number of new illnesses is more than 10 times higher than the cases reported in the U.S. and comes at the end of a multi-day record streak for the highest daily cases reported by any country. Still, officials warn both the death toll and new case count may not reflect true totals.
Multiple countries have promised to send medical aid to India which is grappling with dwindling oxygen supply and a shortage of ventilators and protective gear. The country’s hospital system is overrun with COVID-19 patients, and some hotels and train cars have been turned into critical care facilities as beds run low. Others have spilled into parking lot overflow facilities.
Officials fear the next shortage may be in professionals trained to help these patients.
“Unfortunately, beds do not treat patients – doctors, nurses and paramedics do,” Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon and chairman of Narayana Health chain of hospitals, told Reuters.
Another health care professional told the news outlet that many are working straight through the night to treat patients.
“For seven days, most of us haven’t slept,” Dr. K. Preetham, an administrator at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, told the news outlet, adding that due to the oxygen shortage they’ve had to resort to splitting one machine between two patients.
One medical student told the Associated Press that he’s had a fever and headache for several days, but with his COVID-19 test results delayed the hospital wants him to keep working.
“I am not able to breathe,” Dr. Siddharth Tara told the Associated Press. “In fact, I’m more symptomatic than my patients. So how can they make me work?”
The situation has been described by World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as “beyond heartbreaking.”
Scientists have yet to definitively pinpoint whether a specific variant is behind the surge in cases, but the country has also allowed for mass religious gatherings and campaign rallies without enforcing public health measures. There has since been a change in tone, with the country’s top health official now calling for people to wear masks while in their home.
On Tuesday, the first shipment of medical aid arrived from Britain which included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators. France is also sending breathing machines, pumps and containers of liquid medical oxygen which could help up to 10,000 patients per day.
The U.S. also announced it would be sending raw materials for the AstraZeneca vaccine and was working on other requests for personal protective equipment, tests and oxygen supplies. Late last week White House officials said the crisis “demonstrates the risk of what can happen if we don’t get the pandemic under control everywhere.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.