NEW DELHI - India set a new global record of the most number of coronavirus infections in a day, as the United States said it was racing to send help to the country.
India's number of cases surged by 349,691 in the past 24 hours, the fourth straight day of record peaks, and hospitals in Delhi and across the country are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.
"Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak. We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India's health care heroes," US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter.
The United States has faced criticism in India for its export controls on raw materials for vaccines put in place via the Defense Production Act and an associated export embargo in February.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, this month urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on US exports of raw materials that is hurting its production of AstraZeneca shots.
Others such as US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release unused vaccines to India. "When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can't let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they'll save lives," he said.
India's total tally of infections stands at 16.96 million and deaths 192,311 after 2,767 more died overnight, health ministry data showed.
In the last month alone, daily cases have gone up eight times and deaths by ten times. Health experts say the death count is probably far higher.
People were arranging stretchers and oxygen cylinders outside hospitals as they desperately pleaded for authorities to take patients in, Reuters photographers said.
"Every day, it the same situation, we are left with two hours of oxygen, we only get assurances from the authorities," one doctor said on television.
The surge is expected to peak in mid-May with the daily count of infections reaching half a million, the Indian Express said citing an internal government assessment.
V.K. Paul, a COVID-task force leader, made the presentation during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state chief ministers and said that the health infrastructure in heavily populated states is not adequate enough to cope, according to the newspaper.
Paul did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Experts said India became complacent in the winter, when new cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control. Authorities lifted restrictions, allowing for the resumption of big gatherings.