India reported 349,691 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, the fourth day in a row the country has set a world record for daily infections during the coronavirus pandemic, according to government and scientific tallies.
The country also reported its highest daily death toll for the ninth consecutive day, adding 2,767 fatalities in the past 24 hours.
The country of 1.3 billion people has logged over a million new cases in the past three days, bringing its pandemic totals up to 16.9 million recorded cases of the coronavirus, including 192,311 deaths.
The sky-rocketing Covid-19 infections are devastating India’s communities and hospitals. Everything is in short supply – intensive care unit beds, medicine, oxygen and ventilators. Bodies are piling up in morgues and crematoriums, and authorities have been forced to hold mass cremations at makeshift sites.
Just six weeks ago, India’s Health Minister declared the country was “in the endgame” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But Sunday’s numbers, which represent the highest caseload recorded in a single day anywhere in the world, according to a CNN tally of figures from John Hopkins University, tell a different story.
Germany and South Korea announced new travel restrictions for India starting Sunday amid growing international concern over the B.1.617 coronavirus variant first detected in the country, which includes a number of mutations. The Indian Health Ministry has said such mutations increase infectivity and aid in escaping immune response.
“In order not to jeopardize our vaccination campaign, travel to India must be significantly restricted,” tweeted German Health Minister Jens Spahn. Starting Sunday night, only German citizens with a negative Covid-19 test will be allowed to enter the country from India and must quarantine immediately upon arrival for 14 days.
“Flights carrying South Korean citizens will be allowed but at a limited capacity,” South Korea health official Son Young-rae said in a briefing.
Modi: ‘This storm has shaken the nation’
India’s second wave, which began in mid-March, comes as the country makes headway with its vaccination program. On Saturday, the health ministry said it had administered more than 140 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19 – and 2.4 million of those were in the past 24 hours.
Despite administering the most number of coronavirus vaccines in the world after the United States and China, India ranks lower than many countries in per capita vaccination, according to CNN data.
The country on Monday announced that those aged 18 or older will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine starting May 1. Private vaccination providers will also be able to charge and provide vaccines.
In his monthly radio program, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and referred to the second Covid-19 wave as a “storm” that had “shaken the nation.”
“I’m speaking to you at a time when Covid-19 is testing our patience and capacity to bear pain. Many of our loved ones have left us in an untimely way. After successfully tackling the first wave, the nation’s morale was high, it was confident. But this storm has shaken the nation,” Modi said.
While state ministers and local authorities had been warning about the second wave and preparing action since February, there appears to have been a vacuum of leadership within the central government, with Modi staying largely silent on the situation until recent weeks.
On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent his support to the people of India.
“Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific Covid-19 outbreak,” Sec. Blinken tweeted. “We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes.”
Pressure is mounting on the Biden administration to lift restrictions on exports of supplies that Indian vaccine manufactures say are required to ramp up production.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, urged President Joe Biden to lift the embargo, which former President Donald Trump invoked at the start of the pandemic under the Defense Production Act. The restrictions have continued under Biden since February to boost domestic vaccine production.
“If we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details,” he tweeted.
Private companies in India step in to plug oxygen shortage
As Covid-19 cases surge and India continues to face severe oxygen shortages, private companies are stepping in to offer their support.
On Saturday, Sahil Barua, the co-founder and CEO of Indian courier company Delhivery, announced the company would work with its airline partners to import oxygen concentrators and other essentials.
“We’re flying charters into India with oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies and can build more capacity on demand,” Barua posted on LinkedIn.
Several industrial players are also redirecting oxygen production toward aiding the shortage.
The Steel Authority of India, along with private steel giant Jindal Steel and Power and the Tata Group, the country’s biggest industrial group, have been supplying oxygen to affected states.
“Tankers refilled with liquid medical #oxygen and being dispatched from our oxygen plant. We shall overcome the #OxygenShortage,” Naveen Jindal, chairman of Jindal Steel and Power, tweeted in one of several such posts.
“Medical oxygen is critical to the treatment of Covid-19 patients. Responding to the national urgency, we’re supplying 200-300 tons of Liquid Medical Oxygen daily to various state governments and hospitals. We are in this fight together & will surely win it!” tweeted Tata Steel, a subsidiary of the group, on April 18.
The Tata Group also posted photos on Twitter of four cryogenic oxygen containers it imported from Singapore, which were flown in by the Indian Air Force on Saturday. It is importing 24 cryogenic containers to transport liquid oxygen and help ease the oxygen shortage in the country, according to a tweet on April 20.
On Thursday, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order banning the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes.
CNN’s Sugam Pokharel reported from Atlanta and Helen Regan wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Inke Kappeler contributed to this report.