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India’s Covid cases top18 million as deaths hit record high

NEW DELHI, India: As India grapples with the world’s worst coronavirus crisis, fires in crematoriums continue to burn around the clock with capital New Delhi reporting one death every four minutes.

Thursday marked another grim record for the country with 379,257 new infections and 3,645 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, a mass vaccination drive due to begin on the weekend is also facing a setback as Indians are struggling to register online. To help cope with the country’s shortages of hospital beds and medical oxygen, allies overseas are sending equipment.

On the other hand, long queues were seen outside polling booths in West Bengal, raising concerns about the further spread of the virus as a deadly second wave sweeps the country.

Experts have already warned that West Bengal could be the next epicentre of the virus, as campaigning has continued there with large crowds.

It recorded more than 17,000 cases in the last 24 hours – a new high.

The state has already seen seven phases of voting. The eastern state is one of the few where Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not have a majority of seats.

There has been a lot of criticism that he continued to hold large rallies there even as the virus began overwhelming the country.

Some of the biggest rallies, including those attended by Modi, saw throngs of people not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.

The state recorded logged 17,207 new Covid-19 cases over the last 24 hours, of which 3,821 cases were reported in the capital Kolkata, Indian media reports said.

Votes will be counted on May 2. India’s election commission has banned victory processions in the wake of the pandemic.

Taiwan has bought 150 oxygen concentrators and plans to send them to India this weekend and is also looking at providing further aid, foreign minister Joseph Wu said.

Wu told reporters that they had been working on an aid package for India and have already purchased 150 oxygen concentrators, which should be sent this weekend.

“We are in the process of buying more oxygen concentrators and buying raw materials from overseas so our companies at home can produce even more,” he said.

India’s deadly Covid-19 second wave has devastated big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Pune. Hospitals and crematoriums have run out of space, and funerals are taking place in car parks. But the pandemic has now firmly gripped many smaller cities, towns and villages where the devastation is largely under-reported.

Social media is awash with posts from people pleading for beds, oxygen and drugs like remdesivir. The chief minister has also warned that action will be taken against any private hospital that “falsely reports” an oxygen shortage.

Hospital sources said arranging oxygen had become difficult, but he would not complain because he feared retribution.

Russia on Wednesday announced that it would deliver emergency aid to the coronavirus-hit country.

According to Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin called Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday and committed.

“Vladimir Putin expressed words of support to Narendra Modi in this difficult period in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus infection and informed him about the decision to provide India with emergency humanitarian aid,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

It added that the Russian deliveries will include “20 units of equipment for the production of oxygen, 75 artificial lung ventilation devices, 150 medical monitors and 200,000 packages of medicines”.

The Kremlin said Modi “warmly thanked the President of Russia for the assistance provided, which is large of a high-tech nature and is in great demand in the country”.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti cited the trade and industry ministry as saying that the 200,000 medicine packages would be favipiravir, an antiviral medication.