India's second wave 'could kill 5,700 people a day by next month'

India has recorded the highest global daily tally of new coronavirus infections for three consecutive days as the second wave continues to wreak havoc on the country.

Its health ministry reported another 2,624 deaths and 346,786 new cases in the past 24 hours, although limited testing has led many to believe the true figure may be even higher.

Overburdened hospitals have been forced to turn away critically ill patients as doctors struggle to cope with dwindling oxygen supplies.

And one of India’s leading scientists has warned that the devastating second wave has yet to hit its peak, with studies suggesting infections could surge as high as 500,000 per day by the first week of May.

The current fatality rate per 100,000 cases is 1.14%, meaning that a peak of 500,000 infections per day could lead to 5,700 deaths.

Virologist Shahid Jameel told BBC Radio 4: ‘People who do modelling studies do suggest that India will hit a peak somewhere towards the end of the first week of May, and we may climb up to about 500,000 cases per day, possibly more.’

Hospitals in New Delhi and some of the worst-hit states have reported critical shortages of beds, oxygen supplies and drugs. It has pushed an increasing number of Indians towards the black market.

Thefts of oxygen tanks have been on the rise, with a lorry full of them looted in Madhya Pradesh.

Hospitals there have also been ransacked, and there have been reports of batches of anti-viral drug remdesivir being stolen.

Dr Sumit Ray said the lack of oxygen and available beds has meant that patients were dying ‘within minutes’ of arriving at hospital.

He told the BBC: ‘Almost every hospital is on the edge. If oxygen runs out, there is no leeway for many patients.

‘Within minutes, they will die. You can see these patients: they’re on ventilators, they require high-flow oxygen. If the oxygen stops, most of them will die.’

Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti told ITV: ‘I have never seen this type of situation in my whole medical career.

‘From last 10 years I am practicing medicine, I have not seen this type of situation where people are dying on the roads.

‘They are not able to get better. They are not able to get oxygen.’

He described a tragic feeling of relief when the death of one patient means a bed becomes free for another.

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The High Court in Delhi convened on Saturday to impose a strict edict that anyone caught restricting oxygen supplies ‘will be hanged’.

The World Health Organisation has described the situation in India as a ‘devastating reminder’ of the destruction that coronavirus can cause.

Boris Johnson has pledged to support India in its fight against the virus.

He said: ‘We’re looking at what we can do to help and support the people of India, possibly with ventilators.’

The prime minister added: ‘Thanks to the ventilator challenge, the huge efforts of British manufacturers, we’re better able now to deliver ventilators to other countries.

‘But also possibly with therapeutics, Dexamethasone, other things, we’ll look at what we can do to help.’

There is mounting concern internationally both about the number of Covid-19 cases in India and the emergence there of a variant of the virus.

The variant – also known as B.1.617 – was first noted internationally in October and first identified in the UK on February 22.

It has 13 mutations, including two in the virus’s spike protein, known as E494Q and L452R.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that 55 cases of the Indian variant were found in the UK in the week to April 14.

PHE experts are currently unsure whether any of the mutations mean the variant can be transmitted more easily, is more deadly or can evade the effectiveness of vaccines or natural immunity.

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