New Delhi — India reported a global record of more than 314,000 new infections Thursday as a grim coronavirus surge in the world's second-most populous country sends more and more sick people into a fragile health care system critically short of hospital beds and oxygen.
The 314,835 infections added in the past 24 hours raise India's total past 15.9 million cases since the pandemic began. It's the second-highest total in the world next to the United States, which has roughly double that with nearly 32 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. India has nearly 1.4 billion people.
The Times of India newspaper said the previous highest daily case count of 307,581 was reported in the U.S. on January 8.
Fatalities rose by 2,104 in the past 24 hours, bringing India's overall death toll to 184,657, the Health Ministry said.
CBS News' Arshad Zargar in New Delhi hasin the country, with most hospitals over capacity and, in some cases, two patients even sharing a bed. Stocks of oxygen, medicines and vaccines are all running out. Doctors and nurses are overworked. The rate of fatalities has left bodies to pile up outside crematoriums and graveyards. He said panic had gripped the nation as across India at the most fearsome rate since the pandemic struck more than a year ago.
Maithili Badriprasad, 50, a healthcare practitioner, told CBS News she had to wait four days to get admitted to a hospital in Bengaluru, one of the top tech hubs in the world. She tested positive on April 5 and hospitalization was recommended as her condition worsened. But there were no beds. She was lucky to get an oxygen tank to use at home until April 9, when she was finally admitted to a local ward.
"There was no stretcher or wheelchair, I was asked to walk downstairs to get myself admitted. I was about to pass out," Badriprasad told CBS News.
She was discharged after a week of what she called a "shocking and unbelievable experience." Her lungs still haven't recovered fully. "I told my daughter it's like a Jurassic world out there," Badriprasad said of the scenes she witnessed inside the strained hospital.
Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, tweeted that the situation may be even worse than the numbers make it look.
"It's scary to think this is likely a huge underestimation given reports that testing for #COVID19 is hard to come by and being halted in some places and that bodies are being cremated faster than can be counted," she wrote, adding an ominous warning: "Without getting the pandemic under control more variants will emerge."
She also said, "#COVID19 has become a public health crisis in #India leading to a collapse of the healthcare system."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has faced widespread criticism in recent weeks over the medical shortages, with opposition parties accusing him of mismanagement, unpreparedness and insensitivity.
Near the end of February, with new cases extremely low in India as many other nations battled their own second waves, Modi's political party lauded his "able, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership" and declared COVID-19 "defeated" in the country.
"The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid," Modi's party said.
On Wednesday, the extent to which the virus had come roaring back after restrictions were eased was apparent. The New Delhi High Court ordered the government to divert oxygen from industrial use to hospitals to save people's lives.
"You can't have people die because there is no oxygen. Beg, borrow or steal, it is a national emergency," the judges said in responding to a petition by a New Delhi hospital seeking the court's intervention.
India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday that oxygen "demand and supply is being monitored 'round the clock." He said in a tweet that to address the exponential spike in demand, the government had increased the quota of oxygen for the seven worst-hit states.
In scenes familiar across the country, ambulances are seen rushing from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed. Grieving relatives are lining up outside crematoriums where the arrival of bodies has jumped several times.
"I get numerous calls every day from patients desperate for a bed. The demand is far too much than the supply," said Dr. Sanjay Gururaj, a doctor at Bengaluru-based Shanti Hospital and Research Center.
"I try to find beds for patients every day, and it's been incredibly frustrating to not be able to help them. In the last week, three patients of mine have died at home because they were unable to get beds. As a doctor, it's an awful feeling," Gururaj said.
Yogesh Dixit, a resident of northern Uttar Pradesh state, said earlier this week that he had to buy two oxygen cylinders at 12,000 rupees ($160) each, more than twice the normal cost, for his ailing father because the state-run hospital in Lucknow had run out of supplies.
He bought two "because the doctors can ask for another oxygen cylinder at any time," he said, adding that he had to sell his wife's jewelry to meet the cost.
The main cremation ground at Lucknow, the state capital, received nearly 200 bodies on Sunday.
Shekhar Chakraborty, 68, described the scene. "The bodies were everywhere, they were being cremated on sidewalks meant for walking. I have never such a flow of dead bodies in my life," he said.
In Kanpur, another city in Uttar Pradesh state, 35 new temporary platforms have been set up on Bithoor-Sidhnath Ghat stretch along Ganges River to cremate bodies.
The Health Ministry said that of the country's total production of 8,300 tons of oxygen per day, 7,275 tons were being allocated for medical use.
It also said that 75 railroad coaches in the Indian capital have been turned into hospitals, providing an additional 1,200 beds for COVID-19 patients.