World rallies around India as new Covid-19 cases set record for fifth straight day

Health ministry reports 352,991 new infections and 2,812 deaths over 24 hours

India set a global record for daily coronavirus cases for a fifth straight day on Monday as countries mobilised assistance to help its overwhelmed health sector.

With 352,991 new cases, India's total caseload has crossed 17 million, according to health ministry data.

Deaths rose by a record 2,812 to reach a total of 195,123.

The rapid rise in cases has created severe shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and medicines, leading to scenes of people dying outside treatment centres and overwhelmed crematoriums and cemeteries.

The crisis has prompted an outpouring of international support, with offers to supply drugs, equipment and oxygen.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, assured India of the UAE’s support on Sunday.

He “expressed the UAE's keenness to dedicate all resources” to help in a phone call with Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs.

Landmarks in the UAE were lit up in the colours of the Indian flag on Sunday in a show of solidarity.

"We stand with India in the face of the difficult conditions of the epidemic and we are guided in our positions and stands by our Islamic and humanitarian values," Dr Anwar Gargash, Diplomatic Adviser to President Sheikh Khalifa, said in a tweet on Monday.

The United States offered to immediately provide materials for Covid-19 vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to help India respond to a massive surge in Covid-19 infections, the White House said on Sunday.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said the materials would help India to make its Covishield vaccine, the locally licensed version of the AstraZeneca treatment.

The US would also send therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits and ventilators.

President Joe Biden said America was "determined to help India in its time of need".

Britain, France and Germany also pledged aid at the weekend, with the first shipment of ventilators and oxygen concentrators expected to arrive from Britain on Tuesday.

“We stand side by side with India as a friend and partner during what is a deeply concerning time in the fight against Covid-19,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Saudi Arabia sent an initial shipment of 80 tonnes of liquid oxygen and began flying oxygen tanks and diverted oxygen supplies from industrial use to hospitals.

"Our heartfelt thanks to Ministry of Health, kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for all their help, support and co-operation," the Indian embassy in Riyadh said on Twitter.

With state and private health facilities unable to cope, thousands of Indians have begun mobilising to organise oxygen supplies and breathing equipment.

The breakdown in healthcare is a stark failure for a country whose prime minister only in January had declared victory over Covid-19, and which boasted of being the “world’s pharmacy”, a global producer of vaccines and a model for other developing nations.

Caught off guard by the latest deadly surge, the federal government has asked industrialists to increase the production of oxygen and other life-saving drugs in short supply.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution, while hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices saying they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.

Politicians, especially Mr Modi, have faced criticism for holding election rallies attended by thousands of people, packed close together in stadiums and grounds, despite the brutal second wave of infections.

Several cities have ordered curfews, while police have been posted to enforce physical distancing and mask-wearing. The regional government in Delhi, the worst-affected city, extended a week-long lockdown by another week on Sunday as cases among its 20 million people continued to rise.

Still, about 8.6 million voters were expected to cast ballots on Monday in the eastern state of West Bengal, in the penultimate part of an eight-phase election that will wrap up this week.

Voting for local elections in other parts of India included the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which has been reporting an average of 30,000 infections a day.

Mr Modi's plea on vaccinations came after inoculations peaked at 4.5 million doses on April 5, but have since averaged about 2.7 million a day, government figures show.

Several states, including Maharashtra, the richest, halted vaccinations in some places on Sunday, saying supplies were not available.

Demand outstripped supply as the inoculation campaign was widened this month, while companies struggle to boost output, partly because of a shortage of raw material and a fire at a facility making the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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