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14.06.2020 Asia

India's healthcare system under pressure as Covid-19 infections spike

By Murali Krishnan in New Delhi - RFI
REUTERS - Francis Mascarenhas
LISTEN JUN 14, 2020
REUTERS - Francis Mascarenhas

Rising coronavirus infections are piling immense pressure on India's creaky health system, especially in cities like Mumbai, Delhi Chennai and Ahmedabad. With nearly 12,000 new cases reported on Sunday, the number surpassed 320,000, with the death toll now above 9,000.

India's four main urban hubs account for nearly 125,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 4,200 deaths – around half the total fatalities nationwide. 

"The pace of transmission of infection continues to increase," a senior health ministry official told RFI. "The only silver lining is people are recovering faster but that is no room for complacency."

The situation has seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi call an emergency meeting with ministers and officials to review the country's Covid-19 response. 

Peak yet to arrive

Experts say the coronavirus peak in India may not arrive until around mid-November, by which time there may be a serious lack of isolation and intensive care beds, as well as ventilators.

By the government's own admission, five states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh will fall short of critical care beds, intensive care units and ventilators in the next couple of months, as the current trends indicate.

Delhi and Mumbai are taking all measures to arrange more hospital beds, transforming banquet halls, sports stadiums, hotels and school buildings into Covid-19 treatment centres.

In New Delhi, the situation is particularly dire with the government predicting the caseload will balloon to more than half a million by the end of July – for which the health care system appears woefully ill-prepared.

“Delhi will need 150,000 beds by the end of July if its hospitals are to also treat Covid-19 patients from other states,” said chief minister Arvind Kerjriwal at a press conference.

Its current capacity is nearly 9,000 beds.
The financial capital Mumbai, which is now epicentre of the virus with over 100,000 cases, is struggling with the onslaught of infections.

Hospitals are under tremendous strain, with many saying patients with coronavirus-like symptoms are being turned away from private institutes due to a lack of space.

While the current focus is on peaks in major hubs, the influx of an estimated 40 million migrant workers from cities into villages has triggered a fresh wave of infections in areas that had previously been relatively untouched by the virus.

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