Fatalities have been overlooked or downplayed, understating the human toll of the country’s outbreak, which accounts for nearly half of all new cases in a global surge.
NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus second wave is rapidly sliding into a devastating crisis, with hospitals unbearably full, oxygen supplies running low, desperate people dying in line waiting to see doctors — and mounting evidence that the actual death toll is far higher than officially reported.
Each day, the government reports more than 300,000 new infections, a world record, and India is now seeing more new infections than any other country by far, almost half of all new cases in a global surge.
But experts say those numbers, however staggering, represent just a fraction of the real reach of the virus’s spread, which has thrown this country into emergency mode. Millions of people refuse to even step outside — their fear of catching the virus is that extreme. Accounts from around the country tell of the sick being left to gasp for air as they wait at chaotic hospitals that are running out of lifesaving oxygen.
The sudden surge in recent weeks, with an insidious newer variant possibly playing a role, is casting increasing doubt on India’s official Covid-19 death toll of nearly 200,000, with more than 2,000 people dying every day.
stopped taking precautions, acting as if the worst days were over.
Now, countless Indians are turning to social media to send out heartbreaking S.O.S. messages for a hospital bed, medicine, some oxygen to breathe. “‘National Emergency,’” blared a banner headline in one of India’s leading papers, The Hindustan Times. Across India, mass cremations are now taking place. Sometimes dozens of fires go up at once.
At the same time, India’s Covid vaccine campaign is struggling: Less than 10 percent of Indians have gotten even one dose, despite India being the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer. India’s dire needs are already having ripple effects across the world, especially for poorer countries. It had planned to ship out millions of doses; now, given the country’s stark vaccination shortfall, exports have essentially been shut down, leaving other nations with far fewer doses than they had expected.
Doctors worry that the runaway surge is being at least partly driven by the emergence of a virus variant known as the “double mutant,” B.1.617, because it contains genetic mutations found in two other difficult-to-control versions of the coronavirus. One of the mutations is present in the highly contagious variant that ripped through California earlier this year. The other mutation is similar to one found in the South African variant and believed to make the virus more resistant to vaccines.
a catastrophic gas leak in the 1980s that killed thousands, residents say the cremation grounds haven’t been as busy since that disaster.
Over 13 days in mid-April, Bhopal officials reported 41 deaths related to Covid-19. But a survey by The New York Times of the city’s main Covid-19 cremation and burial grounds, where bodies were being handled under strict protocols, revealed a total of more than 1,000 deaths during the same period.
“Many deaths are not getting recorded and they are increasing every day,” said Dr. G.C. Gautam, a cardiologist based in Bhopal. He said that officials were doing this because “they don’t want to create panic.”
The same phenomenon appeared to be happening in Lucknow and Mirzapur — major cities in Uttar Pradesh State — and across Gujarat, where, during a similar period in mid-April, the authorities reported between 73 and 121 Covid-related deaths each day.