India's Largest City Converting Hotels Into COVID Treatment Centers as Daily Cases Top 200K

More than a dozen hotels and banquet halls in New Delhi will be converted into COVID-19 treatment centers as the number of cases climbs past 200,000.

"The surge is alarming," said S.K. Sarin, a government health expert in New Delhi.

Delhi's top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, said that 5,000 hospital beds are still available in the capital and more capacity is being added. Still, doctors from nearby hospitals will treat moderately ill patients at the temporary treatment centers.

At Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital in New Delhi, the Indian capital city's largest facility treating COVID-19 patients, two or three patients were seen sharing single beds in some wards as overworked doctors attended to them, according to Reuters.

"Last year also we have not seen such a bad situation. This time the number is very high and increasing very rapidly, going (at a) very fast speed, so the situation is really alarming," LNJP Medical Director Suresh Kumar told Reuters.

"We are definitely overburdened...Today we have 158 admissions in Lok Nayak alone. All sick patients, all severe patients," Kumar added.

The city also announced stay-at-home orders through the weekend. Malls, restaurants, gyms and spas will be shut down and movie theaters will close on the weekends but will operate at limited capacity during weekdays. Essential workers will be able to move about only if they have a pass from local authorities.

The 200,739 new infections recorded Thursday are about twice the number of daily cases recorded during the last peak in September. The Health Ministry also reported 1,038 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the total to over 173,000.

India COVID-19 Hotels
Patients take a stroll at a quarantine center for COVID-19 coronavirus infected patients at a banquet hall that was converted into an isolation center to handle the rising cases of infection on April 15, 2021, in New Delhi, India. COVID-19 cases are spiraling out of control in India, with a record 184,372 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to health ministry data, bringing the nationwide tally of infections to 13.9 million. The latest wave has already overwhelmed hospitals. Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

The soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic—and have forced the country to delay exports of vaccines abroad. India is a major producer of COVID-19 shots, and its pivot to focus on domestic demand has weighed heavily on global efforts to end the pandemic.

The moves in the capital came after similar measures were imposed in the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital, Mumbai. The bustle of India's biggest city ebbed after authorities closed most industries, businesses and public places Wednesday night and put limits on the movement of people for 15 days. Train and plane travel was still allowed, however.

In recent days, the city has seen an exodus of panic-stricken day laborers, hauling backpacks and flocking to overcrowded trains.

Dozens of other towns and cities have also imposed nighttime curfews.

The surge in cases was weighing on hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and several other states, where many reported a shortage of oxygen tanks. Imran Sheikh, a resident of the city of Pune in Maharashtra, said he was asked to supply his own oxygen tank for a relative undergoing COVID-19 treatment.

Cremation and burial grounds in the worst-hit areas were finding it difficult to cope with the increasing number of bodies arriving for last rites, according to Indian media reports.

Shahid Jamil, a virologist, said the recent local and state elections with massive political rallies and a major Hindu festival during which hundreds of thousands of devotees bathed in the Ganges river were super-spreader events.

India's toll of 14 million cases puts it second behind the United States. It ranks fourth in deaths after the U.S., Brazil and Mexico—though, with nearly 1.4 billion people, it has a much larger population than any of those countries. Experts say even these figures are likely an undercount.

As it struggles with the caseload, India is ramping up its vaccination drive. The Health Ministry said the total vaccinations crossed 114 million, with more than 3 million doses administered on Wednesday.

When infections began plummeting in India in September, many concluded the worst had passed. Masks and social distancing were abandoned. When cases began rising again in February, authorities were left scrambling.

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