India recorded more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths in a day for the first time as more states imposed lockdowns in a desperate bid to halt the devastating new COVID-19 surge.
The 4,187 new deaths took India’s overall toll to 238,270 since the pandemic started. It added another 401,078 new cases in 24 hours taking its caseload to nearly 21.9 million – second only to the United States.
Health experts, who have expressed doubts about the official death toll, said the new wave may not hit a peak until the end of May, and there have been mounting calls for tough nationwide measures.
Morgues and crematoriums have struggled to handle the number of dead, and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for his handling of an acute oxygen shortage, though the government said it is doing all it can.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister MK Stalin said in a letter to Modi late on Friday that Tamil Nadu’s medical oxygen demand could double in the next two weeks.
“The availability of oxygen in Tamil Nadu is very, very critical,” Stalin said, adding 13 patients died in a hospital on the outskirts of Chennai because of the lack of oxygen.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress Party, called on Modi to order a national lockdown or the spread could be “devastating” for India and other countries.
The government, stung by criticism of its handling of the crisis, has largely left individual state administrations to handle pandemic clampdowns.
While major cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai have been boosted by extra supplies of oxygen – much of it from abroad – and new hospital beds opened up, the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala all ordered lockdowns to counter an explosion in COVID cases.