Coronavirus: Indian hospitals run short of intensive care beds  | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 23.11.2020

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Coronavirus: Indian hospitals run short of intensive care beds 

Health workers in Delhi are struggling to cope with a record spike in COVID-19 cases. The federal government has had to enlist medical students to help bring the surge under control.

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 the 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.

Watch video 03:52

Delhi front-line worker witnesses pandemic's rising toll

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.

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.

Watch video 03:46

India plays major role in global COVID-19 vaccine effort

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