NEW DELHI – India surpassed on Saturday the grim milestone of half a million coronavirus cases with the health authorities reporting more than 18,500 new patients within the last 24 hours as part of an alarming surge in infections across the country.
The central health ministry also reported 384 fresh deaths since Friday morning that pushed the total fatalities in India to 15,685.
The country has now reported a total of 508,953 coronavirus cases, which includes 197,387 active and 295,881 recovered patients, the ministry said.
India is battling the fourth-biggest outbreak of the coronavirus in the world. It is behind only the United States, Brazil, and Russia in the number of cases according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address that the country was doing better than many other nations in the world.
“India is firmly fighting COVID-19. Earlier this year, some people predicted that the impact of the virus in India would be very, very severe,” Modi said.
“But due to lockdown and many initiatives taken by the government as well as a people-driven fight, India is much better placed than many other nations. India’s recovery rate is rising.”
Modi also drew a comparison of India’s fatality rate with other countries, saying the nation’s death per million due to COVID-19 stood at just 12.
“The death rate in Italy is 574 per million. The figures in America, Britain, Spain, and France are also much higher than in India. Hundreds and thousands of (Indian) villages, home to 850 million people, remain almost untouched by the new coronavirus.”
However, the surging rate of infections in India has set the alarm bells ringing amid a not-so-strong health infrastructure which is now collapsing under the weight of the sheer number of COVID-19 patients.
Picture this: the first 100,000 COVID-10 cases in India were registered over 139 days. It took another 16 days to cross the 200,000-mark. The next 300,000 cases were added in 27 days, with the last 100,000 taking just seven days.
The surge of infections is particularly alarming in the big cities of New Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai.
The central health ministry claimed on Saturday it had accelerated its efforts, including testing, for combating the outbreak.
Despite the claims, the Delhi state, which encompasses the capital region of New Delhi, has been struggling with a sudden wave of coronavirus infection, with its hospitals overrun by patients.
However, Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal said the local administration along with the federal government had bolstered their efforts to improve the health infrastructure in the sprawling city of over 19 million.
“In the last one week, the number of beds in Delhi hospitals has increased significantly. There are 13,500 beds present in the hospitals as of now, of which 6,500 are occupied. Also, 20,000 (COVID-19) tests are being conducted daily,” Kejriwal said.
The government is also building a 1,000-bedded new greenfield hospital which is expected to start functioning next week. The new facility is to be manned by doctors and paramedical staff from the Indian Army, according to the union health ministry.
The country began easing its 75-day coronavirus-induced lockdown from June 8, having first imposed its strict stay-at-home orders on March 25.
The confinement led to an unprecedented halt in almost all economic activities, sparking a crisis for millions of migrant workers who were stranded in large cities after they lost their jobs suddenly.
The lockdown has largely been lifted, with certain restrictions still in place.
However, cases have risen swiftly since the first phase of the easing of restrictions began nearly two weeks ago.