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Coronavirus: Indian hospitals run short of intensive care beds 

  • November 23, 2020

On Sunday, Delhi recorded 6,746 new COVID-19 infections and 121 related deaths, bringing the total death toll in the state to 8,391. Local authorities are struggling to cope with an exponential rise in coronavirus cases amid a second wave of the pandemic.  

Reports suggest that over 90% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds with ventilators have already been occupied. Many government hospitals do not have beds with a ventilator and private hospitals are full of COVID-19 patients.

“We are preparing for a surge in coronavirus cases in coming days,” BL Sherwal, the medical director at the state-run Rajiv Gandhi Specialty Hospital, told DW.

Many hospitals have reported an increased admission of critically ill coronavirus patients in the past two weeks.

“More such patients are seeking admission, which is why beds with ventilators are being taken up faster than non-ventilator beds,” Suresh Kumar, the medical director at the LNJP Hospital, told DW.

Emergency measures

The state health department has permitted hospitals to use final year medical students, interns and even dental students to assist them. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences is also recruiting hundreds of junior resident doctors to deal with the situation.

The Railway Ministry has decided to convert train coaches into coronavirus treatment facilities, with paramedics from the military to assist state doctors.

Authorities have deployed 9,500 teams to carry out door-to-door surveys to identify and test people for COVID-19 in densely populated areas.

“We are doing our best to deal with the situation. An increasing number of people are testing positive. We didn’t expect this kind of spike,” a senior doctor from the government’s COVID-19 task force told DW on condition of anonymity.

“The recent festive season, dangerous pollution levels and cold weather are the main reasons behind this surge,” he added.

Read more: Coronavirus: Has pandemic fatigue taken hold in India?

Experts say that most people became complacent and stopped adhering to social distancing rules after a phase of relative stability.

‘Like a tsunami’

While Delhi is registering more new cases than any other Indian state, the coronavirus resurgence can be seen across the country.

The federal government has dispatched medical teams to several states, including Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. The biggest increase in active cases in the past few weeks has been seen in Rajasthan state, followed by Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Over the weekend, Rajasthan reported more than 6,000 cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Read more: Coronavirus: How India’s women entrepreneurs are beating the odds

Authorities have imposed nighttime curfews in several towns of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to contain the virus spread.

Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has urged people to follow safety measures. “I am a bit angry with you all. I told you that after the Diwali festival, the cases could increase. I have seen many people not wearing masks. Don’t think that COVID-19 is over. Don’t be careless. The second and third wave could be like a tsunami,” he said on Thursday.

  • An illuminated Johari Bazar on the occasion of the Diwali festival, in Jaipur, Rajasthan,India,Nov. 13, 2020 (Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/picture alliance )

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Coronavirus, pollution scale back Diwali celebrations

    Millions of people across India celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, on Saturday, but the festivities were scaled down considerably as India reported nearly 8.8 million coronavirus infections, the world’s second-highest caseload. While most stayed away from large, ostentatious celebrations, people found ways to make their Diwali special.

  • A sign requesting patrons to practice social distancing as people step out to celebrate Diwali (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Socially distanced celebrations

    In large cities, authorities enforced strict protocols including mandatory face masks and social distancing in public places. Similar guidelines were tough to implement in smaller towns, where coronavirus fatigue seemed to complement the festive spirit.

  •  A View of Heavy Smoggy Morning During the Diwali Festival Celebration in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India (Himanshu Sharma/NurPhoto/picture alliance )

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Worsening air quality

    As many cities in northern India saw a massive dip in air quality, state governments took strict steps to ensure that the celebrations do not add to the toxicity. Firecrackers are a big part of Diwali for many, but many states enforced blanket bans while others allowed it for limited timeframes. New Delhi saw multiple instances of people flouting the ban while turned to a cleaner celebration.

  • A devotee starting her day with prayer as India celebrates Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Auspicious start to the day

    Varsha Khullar, a resident of India’s eastern city of Kolkata, woke up before sunrise to bathe and start the day with an elaborate prayer at her in-house temple. She bought fresh fruits and flowers to adorn the small temple, which many people set up in their homes. For devout Hindus, the “pooja” is the most crucial part of their Diwali celebration.

  • Shop owners start their day with prayer as India celebrates Diwal (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Prosperity for businesses amidst slowdown

    Businessowners — both small and large — seek to usher in prosperity and wealth every Diwali, and the first step for that is blessing their place of work with another “pooja.” Sachin Mehra owns multiple shops across the northern city of Amritsar. He began his morning with prayers at all stores that are meant to bring growth, especially at a time when the economy suffers due to the pandemic.

  • People step out to do some last-minute shopping as India celebrates Diwali,(Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Fresh flowers as household favorites

    Many people could be seen on the streets as they finished their last-minute preparations for the festivities. Fresh flowers were high in demand, as these are used for the prayer ceremonies as well as decor. Traditionally, most households spend days cleaning up and getting themselves ready for Diwali.

  • A street cart loaded with decorative earthen lamp waits (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Last-minute shopping

    Earthen oil lamps, popularly known as “diyas,” form another big part of Diwali each year. The pandemic could not change that. Multiple street vendors took out their carts and loaded them with handmade decorative lights that are said to usher in light and positivity. Even as many people move to electric string lights, most houses have a few oil lamps lit in line with tradition.

  • A street vendor displays small idols of Hindu gods and goddesses (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Land of colorful gods and goddesses

    In addition to fresh flowers and oil lamps, people also stepped out to buy brightly colored idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, like Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, or the elephant god Ganesha. There are also several regional Diwali traditions in India, which may involve the worship of other gods.

  • A sweet seller makes hot jalebis as India prepares to celebrate Diwali (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Long lines outside sweets shops

    Food forms a big part of any celebration and Diwali is closely linked to boxes of sweets. Kanha Sweets, a local shop in Amritsar, had a long line of patrons waiting to get their hands on a box of traditional Indian sweets. Two doors down, another popular sweet shop had a queue running around the block.

  • Two young women pose with their rangoli, a sacred pattern drawn on floors during auspicious occasions like Diwali (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Painstaking efforts with folk art

    An important Diwali tradition involves making colorful designs outside homes. Better known as rangoli, colorful patterns are made using colored rice, colored sand or fresh flowers. Sabrina Sidhu and Manreet Khara spent the better part of their morning drawing intricate patterns at the entrance to their home. As the evening drew closer, they put in oil lamps and candles to illuminate their designs.

  • A family steps out to light up their home as India celebrates Diwali (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Festival of lights

    Lighting up the house is an important ritual associated with Diwali. Even as most people avoided large-scale celebrations because of the pandemic, the lights were not dimmed. The day was spent decorating their homes with long strings of lights, oil lamps, and candles, all of which were lit up once darkness fell.

  • A girl holds sparklers (Annice Lyn/Zuma/picture alliance )

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Choking on smoke

    While some people swore off firecrackers completely, others used the government-designated time to light sparklers and other smaller crackers. In some cities, louder crackers could be heard until late in the night, well past the permitted times. Most got away with it citing holiday spirit, but local police in different parts of the country have registered some cases.

  • A young man spends his evening waiting for customers to finish their last-minute shopping ahead of Diwali (Seerat Chabba/DW)

    India celebrates Diwali under a cloud of coronavirus, toxic air

    Ray of light through darkness

    Diwali in a pandemic is not easy, but, for many Indians, it signaled a return to relative normalcy. For Rahul, who ran a small cart with decorative supplies, these celebrations could make all the difference between feeding his family or going to sleep with an empty stomach. Even as people run home to celebrate, he stood by his stall till the final customer stopped by for some “rangoli” color.

    Author: Seerat Chabba

Warnings ignored?

According to a study by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in June, India has approximately 1.9 million normal hospital beds, 95,000 ICU beds and 48,000 ventilators. It found that most health facilities were concentrated in the private sector, and the distribution of resources across states and union territories was uneven.

“Our projections have suggested a potential need for approximately 270,000 ICU beds in an optimistic scenario; over 2.8 times the estimated number of total available ICU beds. Additional resources will likely be required to accommodate patients with severe COVID-19 infections in India,” the study said.

Despite these findings, infrastructural inadequacies, a shortage of human resources and a lack of health funding continue to hamper India’s efforts to flatten the coronavirus curve.

The South Asian country spends a little over 1% of its GDP on public health — one of the lowest rates in the world.

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