Second COVID wave overwhelms hospitals, crematoriums in several cities; CBSE, state boards postpone exams

The Kumb Mela in Haridwar emerged as a cause of concern after the city saw more than 1,000 testing positive for the novel coronavirus in a span of 48 hours

Ananya Srivastava April 15, 2021 00:12:12 IST
Second COVID wave overwhelms hospitals, crematoriums in several cities; CBSE, state boards postpone exams

Representational image. Reuters

In the backdrop of an unabated exponential rise in COVID cases, the Central Government Wednesday cancelled Class 10 and postponed Class 12 CBSE Board examinations.

The Centre's decision that would affect over 21 lakh students across the country also spurred similar moves from a few state governments including Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, while states such as Maharashtra said they would study the decision before making a final call.

States like Meghalaya and Karnataka said that the exams will take place in June while the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) has said that it is yet to come to a decision.

States including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have already announced changes in plans for board exams. Several states started reopening the schools partially from October last year, but physical classes are again being suspended because of the rise in coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand's Haridwar has emerged as a cause of concern with more than 1,000 having tested positive in the city within the last 48 hours, according to AFP.

On Wednesday, reports also emerged of dead bodies piling up at crematoriums and burial grounds in Madhya Pradesh's capital Bhopal, raising questions over the low COVID-19 deaths as reported in official figures.

A long queue of ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients outside a civil hospital in Ahmedabad painted a grim image of the coronavirus situation in the former capital of Gujarat.

India's daily new cases continue to rise and a record 1,84,372 fresh coronavirus cases were registered in a span of 24 hours.

India's total number of active cases has increased to 13,65,704 and now comprises 9.84 percent of the country's total infections. A net increase of 1,01,006 cases has been recorded in the total number of active cases in a span of 24 hours.

10 states account for over 80% cases

Ten states, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Kerala, have shown a steep rise in daily new COVID-19 cases accounting for 82.04 percent of the fresh infections being reported in a day, the Union Health Ministry said.

These are: Maharashtra (60,212), Uttar Pradesh (17,963), Chhattisgarh (15,121), Delhi (13,468), Madhya Pradesh (8,998), Karnataka (8,778), Kerala (7,515), Tamil Nadu (6,984), Gujarat (6,990), Rajasthan (5,528).

At least 16 states are recording an upward trajectory in cases.

However, at least 11 states and UTs in India have managed to keep the second wave at bay. The health ministry said that Ladakh, Daman and Diu, Dadara and Nagar Haveli, Tripura, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Arunachal Pradesh have reported no death in the last 24 hours.

On the other hand, the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed 11 crore. Cumulatively, 11,11,79,578 vaccine doses have been administered through16,53,488 sessions, according to the provisional report till 7 am.

Eight states — Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala account for 60.16 percent of the total doses given so far in the country, the ministry said.

As on day 88 of the vaccination drive on Tuesday, 26,46,528 vaccine doses were given. Out of which, 22,58,910 beneficiaries were vaccinated across 44,643 sessions for the first dose and 3,87,618 beneficiaries received the second dose of vaccine.

COVID situation deteriorates in several states

The state of Maharashtra, which is India's worst-hit state, is facing a crisis of medical grade oxygen supply and a severe shortage of beds. According to a report in Hindustan Times, most major hospitals in Pune city have run out of ventilators and ICU beds; only 23 ICU beds with ventilators (out of 1,142 in the district), were free as of Tuesday,  while 753 isolation beds with oxygen were free (out of 9,942).

The situation was similar in Mumbai. The article states that as of Tuesday, as many as 15,451 beds were occupied out of the 19,329 COVID-19 beds under the BMC’s command (13,512 in public hospitals and 5,817 in private hospitals).

Hospitals in Thane and Nagpur are discharging patients early to make space for new and more serious intakes, another Hindustan Times report said.

The state health minister Rajesh Tope also knocked on the doors of neighbouring states to ramp up supply of oxygen but to no avail.

"We have approached all the neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat to supply oxygen for medical purpose, but owing to their own rising demand, these states have expressed their inability to supply oxygen," he said.

Hence, Maharashtra needs to reduce its wastage and work on fixing its leakages (wherever found), Tope told reporters on Wednesday.

On Monday, Tope said plants in Maharashtra are producing 1,200 metric tonnes of oxygen per day and the entire stock is being used for medical purposes. But this demand is expected to go up to 1,500 to 1,600 metric tonnes every day.

Uttar Pradesh, facing a crunch of remdesivir injections, air-dashed health department officials to Ahmedabad to procure 25,000 shots of the injection, considered a key antiviral drug in the fight against COVID-19 .

On Tuesday, state's law minister had complained that beds for coronavirus patients are falling short and ambulances take hours to arrive in Lucknow. He alleged that coronavirus test reports take four to seven days and patients have to wait for five or six hours for ambulances to arrive.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who himself tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, directed authorities to make sure there is no shortage of beds in worst-hit districts such as Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Kanpur Nagar, Gorakhpur and Jhansi.

“Arrangements for 840 additional beds should be made in Lucknow and effective action should be taken to further increase the number of beds in the state capital,” he was quoted as saying by news reports.

In Gujarat, even as the government downplayed the situation, reports said that a long queue of ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients was seen outside the civil hospital in Ahmedabad.

During a hearing on the overall pandemic situation in the state, the Gujarat High Court recently observed that "over 40 ambulances were found queued up outside the civil hospital".

The government, however, claimed that the long queues were not associated with the efficiency of the civil hospital. 

"The civil hospital is trying its best to save every patient. There is no relation between the queue and the efficiency of the civil hospital. We cannot bypass the set protocols just because there is a queue of ambulances," an official release said.

Crematoriums in the state are also under severe stress as relatives of the deceased are forced to continue cremations through the night even though Hindu traditions do not allow last rites after sunset.

Two days back, around 25 bodies were cremated simultaneously on wood pyres at night in a crematorium in the Umra area of Surat city. In Vadodara also, people were forced to cremate the deceased during the night due to the huge rush at some crematoriums, Vadodara Municipal Corporation's standing committee chairman Hitendra Patel told PTI

To tackle the situation and reduce the waiting period, authorities have added metal pyres in some crematoriums and also started defunct facilities.

In Ahmedabad city, relatives of some of the deceased claimed they had to wait for over eight hours for cremation. A huge rush was seen at Vadaj and Dudheshwar crematoriums, two of the major facilities in the city, in the last couple of days.

At 2,491, Ahmedabad city registered the highest number of new cases in the state in the last 24 hours, followed by 1,424 cases in Surat city, 551 in Rajkot city, 317 in Vadodara city, 231 in Surat district, 191 in Mehsana, 189 in Jamnagar, 135 in Vadodara district and 124 in Bharuch.  The cumulative count of infections in Gujarat has reached 3,67,616 while the death toll climbed to 4,995.

The apparent spike in deaths caused due to COVID-19 created a similar situation in Madhya Pradesh's Bhopal, where crematoriums and burial grounds struggled to dispose of bodies as these facilities have started facing several issues, including that of space crunch.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised on the official figure of COVID-19 deaths in the state. However, replying to a query by a TV channel on the apparent gap between the official figures and the bodies coming for the funeral at the crematoriums, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said this difference is because the funeral of suspected coronavirus patients is also being done as per COVID-19 protocols.

Madhya Pradesh recorded 9,720 fresh coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the biggest single-day spike so far, pushing the infection count to 3,63,352. The number of active cases in the state stood at 49,551.

Rajasthan, which also clocked its highest single-day spike of 6,200 fresh COVID-19 cases and 29 fatalities, imposed a night curfew from 6 pm to 6 am in all its districts from 16 to 30 April. As per the new guidelines, a cap of 50 people has been put in place for weddings and 20 for funerals. All political, social and religious gatherings have been banned until 31 May.

Uttarakhand, which is hosting Kumb Mela, a massive religious congregation in Haridwar also saw a spike in cases as thousands of maskless devotees descended on the banks of River Ganga.

The virus was detected in more than 1,000 people in just 48 hours in the city of Haridwar, according to a report in AFP. Of some 50,000 samples taken from the people in the city, 408 tested positive on Monday and 594 on Tuesday, the Uttarakhand state government told the news agency.

Over 13.5 lakh people, including sadhus from 13 akhadas, had bathed in the Ganga by the end of the day.

According to PTI, random tests among the sadhus at the akhadas on Wednesday indicated a coronavirus positivity rate of nearly 4 percent. Nineteen of the 500 samples collected from the mela site on Wednesday have come back positive, the report added.

Police personnel were seen distributing masks in the Kumbh Mela area. But social distancing norms were violated openly by the seers when they and their followers descended the steps at Har ki Pairi to wade into the river.

No masks were worn by a large proportion of them.

Remdesivir shortage: Govt asks manufacturers to ramp up supply

The government on Wednesday said it has given approval for stepping up the manufacturing capacity of remdesivir that would enhance the production to around 78 lakh vials per month. The current total installed capacity of the seven manufacturers of remdesivir is 38.80 lakh vials per month, the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers said in a statement.

As an additional measure, remdesivir, active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) and formulation were placed under the export ban on 11 April, 2021, by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to increase the supply of remdesivir in the domestic market, the ministry said.

On government intervention, it said that remdesivir supplies of approximately 4 lakh vials, meant for exports, are being diverted by manufacturers to fulfil domestic requirements, it added.

Manufacturers of remdesivir have volunteered to reduce the price to less than Rs 3,500 per vial by the end of this week, it added.

Meanwhile, the health ministry said that the drug must be given only to hospitalised patients who are low on oxygen, adding that the drug should be supplied only to hospitals and not to chemists or patients.

The second wave of coronavirus has witnessed an unprecedented demand for Remdesivir injection. This was because the production had decreased during the brief spell when the situation was improving in India, news agency ANI quoted health minister as saying.

An article in The Indian Express also explained the shortage with the slump in production, which it said was a direct byproduct of the drop in demand.

"Last December, several suppliers and manufacturers were left with huge stockpiles. They had anticipated sales and scaled-up production, but the fall in COVID-19 cases hit their plans. Some manufacturers were forced to destroy expired stocks of the drug. As a result, most manufacturers scaled-down production in January, and for the first three months this year, remdesivir production was negligible or nil," the report said.

It is important to point out here that the World Health Organistaion has recommended against the use of the drug as there is "no evidence" to support that the injection supports survival and other outcomes in hospitalised patients.

An article in India Today stated that the global health body was still awaiting results from a larger clinical trial to see if the drug could be helpful in the treatment of Covid cases at all. The data of the trial is likely to come up in a few weeks time.

Meanwhile, there are certain reports of black-marketing and hoarding of the drug which prompted the health ministry to state today that those disrupting the supply chain and creating artificial shortage will be heavily penalised.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date:

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