India Postpones Exams for Trainee Doctors to Help Fight Horrific COVID Surge

Exams for medical interns in India will be postponed in an effort to increase personnel availability amid the world's worst coronavirus outbreak, India's prime minister and minister of health announced Monday.

The postponement comes as India reaches nearly 20 million positive cases since the onset of the pandemic and a 12th day of more than 300,000 new cases, according to the Ministry of Health. Some experts say the numbers are likely wildly underreported given India's developing infrastructure.

India's medical interns will be deployed for COVID management duties, and final-year undergraduates will provide tele-consultation and monitoring for mild cases, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said.

The individuals providing services in Covid management will be given priority in forthcoming regular Government recruitments after they complete minimum of 100 days of Covid duty.

— PMO India (@PMOIndia) May 3, 2021

Final-year postgraduate students may continue serving as residents, and the NEET-PG, India's qualifying and ranking exam for doctors, will be pushed back to August 31 as shortages of hospital beds, oxygen, medication and qualified personnel create chaos for the imperiled nation.

Strengthening our healthcare workforce to fight #COVID19
To make numerous qualified doctors available:
👩‍⚕️NEET-PG exam postponed for at least 4 months
👨‍⚕️Students to be given at least 1 month to prepare
👩‍⚕️Final yr PG students to continue serving as residents@PMOIndia @MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/SShHcuFd2s

— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) May 3, 2021

The prime minister's office said that the triage efforts arose of necessity and that the deployed students will be under the orientation and supervision of faculty as part of their internship rotation. Trainees receive honors after enlisting in the emergency program for at least 100 days.

"All such professionals who sign up for minimum 100 days of Covid duty and complete it successfully will also be given the Prime Minister's Distinguished Covid National Service Samman from Government of India," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement. "Doctors, nurses and allied professionals form the backbone of Covid management and are also the frontline personnel. Their presence in adequate strength is critical to address the needs of the patients well. The stellar work and deep commitment of the medical community was taken note of."

Scenes from across India show overcrowded hospitals, grief-stricken families and mass cremations as crematoriums struggle to burn the dead quickly. Last week, hospitals began begging the Indian government for oxygen supplies as doctors and medical personnel saw their patients gasping for air.

Other countries have rushed to India's aid with medical equipment and supplies. The British high commissioner to India announced Monday that the United Kingdom will send 1,000 more ventilators in addition to the 200 ventilators, 495 oxygen concentrators and three oxygen generation units announced last week.

UK will send 1,000 more ventilators for use in India’s hospitals, in addition to 200 ventilators, 495 oxygen concentrators and 3 oxygen generation units announced last week. 

Businesses & civil societies are also coming forward as 🇬🇧 stands with 🇮🇳 against #Covid#LivingBridge pic.twitter.com/FfVpLwkwuK

— Alex Ellis (@AlexWEllis) May 3, 2021

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has received widespread criticism for its handling of the pandemic. In January, Modi confidently announced that India had conquered the coronavirus.

India wants the resignation of Health Minister Dr. Harsh vardhan. #ResignHarshvardhan

— Hansraj Meena (@HansrajMeena) May 3, 2021

"[India] has saved the world, entire humanity, from a major tragedy by effectively controlling coronavirus," he told the World Economic Forum.

Activists have called for the resignations of top officials, blaming the scale of the outbreak on the government's desire to cast India as a leader in pandemic management.

India Hospital
Patients who contracted the coronavirus lie in beds while connected to oxygen supplies inside the emergency ward of a hospital in New Delhi, India, on May 3. Rebecca Conway/Getty Images

The Ministry of Health said positive cases of the virus relative to the number of tests decreased on Monday for the first time since mid-April, a small sliver of hope for the desperate country.