In India, a scramble for scarce vaccines as COVID deaths top 200,000
New Delhi — On Wednesday, when the Indian government opened registrations for vaccination of all adults beginning May 1, millions jumped to get themselves in the queue for shots.
The CoWIN website got 2.7 million hits per minute, and a total of 383 million hits in the first three hours, said a government statement, which also denied reports that it crashed.
The overwhelming response to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, in major contrast to the earlier days of hesitancy, comes amidst an explosion of coronavirus cases in India.
On Wednesday, the country's death toll topped 200,000 with a record 3,293 deaths reported in the single day. India also posted an all-time high of 360,960 new cases, bringing the total to nearly 18 million.
The second wave of coronavirus has wreaked havoc through the country, overwhelming its health care system and creating an acute shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, medicines and vaccines.
The virus is killing thousands of people every day, many of whom were unable to access hospital care or oxygen.
On Tuesday, families of the dead queued up at overworked crematoriums in Delhi to register for the last rites for their loved ones. One of the biggest crematoriums in the Indian capital's Gazipur area was creating additional spots to burn pyres, as bodies laid in waiting.
"This is total failure," an angry man named Karan, who uses only one name, told CBS News at the crematorium, as dozens of pyres burned nearby. "What else would you call daily funerals of 150 people at one crematorium alone?"
Karan's father, who had multiple comorbidities, died of coronavirus last week, he said.
Ambulances kept bringing bodies of COVID-19 victims into the crematorium through the day and late into the night, as family members in disbelief consoled each other and lined up to bid final goodbyes.
Several hospitals in Delhi have continued to report oxygen shortages for more than a week now. At least 20 critical COVID patients died at Delhi's Jaipur Golden Hospital last Friday due to an oxygen shortage.
Several countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., have either pledged to help India with oxygen resources or have already flown in supplies, but there was no significant improvement in the situation as of Wednesday.
Long lines of people desperately trying to get an oxygen cylinder or a refill could be seen outside the vendors' shops in Delhi on Wednesday. And social media continued to remain full of SOS requests for oxygen, hospital beds and medicine. A growing network of online volunteers, known as "COVID warriors," is trying to help people hit hard by the punishing second wave of the virus.
Amidst the shortage, oxygen cylinders and key coronavirus drugs are now being sold on the black market in Delhi.
"Doesn't the governments know that it [oxygen] is selling on the black market?" said Karan. "If it's available there, why not in hospitals for the poor people?"
As hospitals remained tough to access, thousands of COVID-19 patients from Delhi and nearby areas have thronged a Sikh temple in the past week to get plugged into oxygen cylinders.
Gurpreet Singh Rami, founder of Khalsa Help International, the Sikh charity running the free oxygen service, told CBS News they are expanding their services to include free medicines.
India is expanding its vaccination program as the pandemic is taking a grim toll on the lives of its 1.32 billion people. Experts believe that along with restrictions, vaccination is the only way to curb the raging virus.
As of May 1, everyone aged 18 or above will be eligible for a shot. But several states have warned of shortages. The country's worst-hit Maharashtra state has said it won't expand vaccinations on Sunday as adequate doses are not available.
India has only vaccinated about 25 million people fully so far — less than 2% of the population.
Some experts have warned that the expansion of the vaccine program will increase demand significantly while the supply remain limited.
Along with oxygen resources, the U.S. plans to help India with vaccines too. President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. intends to send vaccines to India, but didn't specify the timing for the shipments. This comes amidst anger over vaccine doses lying unused in the U.S. while hard-hit poorer countries like India are facing shortages.
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