India COVID Surge Moves South 05/08 07:26

India COVID Surge Moves South          05/08 07:26

   Two southern states in India became the latest to declare lockdowns, as 
coronavirus cases surge at breakneck speed across the country and pressure 
mounts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to implement a nationwide 
shutdown.

   BENGALURU, India (AP) -- Two southern states in India became the latest to 
declare lockdowns, as coronavirus cases surge at breakneck speed across the 
country and pressure mounts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to 
implement a nationwide shutdown.

   At over 300,000, Karnataka's capital of Bengaluru has the highest active 
caseload of any Indian city. But experts warn the worst is still ahead as 
India's third-largest city buckles under oxygen shortages, overrun hospitals 
and crowded crematoriums. In Tamil Nadu state, the lockdown announcement 
followed a daily record of more than 26,000 cases on Friday.

   Infections have swelled in India since February in a disastrous turn blamed 
on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive 
crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies.

   On Saturday, India reported 401,078 confirmed cases, including a record high 
of 4,187 deaths. Overall, India has more than 21.8 million confirmed infections 
and nearly 240,000 deaths. Experts say even those dramatic tolls are 
undercounts.

   One doctor in Bengaluru said he's had to reject patients "left, right and 
center" as his hospital struggled to find more oxygen.

   "The problem is the demand is so high that we need constant oxygen," said 
Dr. Sanjay Gururaj, the medical director at Shanti Hospital and Research 
Center. The hospital is sending a truck twice a day to oxygen plants on the 
outskirts of the city to bring back 12 jumbo oxygen cylinders. "In normal 
times, this would have lasted over two weeks -- now, it lasts just over a day," 
he added.

   The state's oxygen shortages prompted the high court on Wednesday to order 
the federal government to increase the daily liquid medical oxygen supplied to 
Karnataka. The ruling came after 24 virus patients died in a government 
hospital on Monday. It's unclear how many of them died due to the lack of 
oxygen, but an investigation is ongoing.

   Modi has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus in this 
current surge to poorly equipped state governments, and faced accusations of 
doing too little. His government has countered that it is doing everything it 
can amid a "once-in-a-century crisis." Meanwhile, many medical experts, 
opposition leaders and even Supreme Court judges are calling for national 
restrictions, arguing that a patchwork of state rules is insufficient to quell 
the rise in infections.

   Experts caution that the surge in Bengaluru is fast eclipsing other hard-hit 
cities like the capital, New Delhi, and Mumbai. Cases have increased 100-fold 
since February, said Murad Banaji, a mathematician modeling COVID-19 growth in 
India, citing official data. Test positivity has jumped to over 30%, which 
indicates the infection is much more widespread than confirmed figures, he 
added.

   "Disaster was looming by early March, when cases started to shoot up," he 
said. "Bangalore is more than a ticking time bomb right now -- it is in the 
middle of an explosion." Bengaluru was previously known as Bangalore.

   Much of the focus in recent weeks has been on northern India, led by New 
Delhi, where television stations have broadcast images of patients lying on 
stretchers outside hospitals and of mass funeral pyres that burn throughout the 
night.

   The situation unfurling in Karnataka has thrown attention to other southern 
states also battling a rise in cases. Daily cases have breached the 20,000 mark 
for the past three days in Andhra Pradesh state, leading to new restrictions 
there.

   Kerala, which emerged as a blueprint for tackling the pandemic last year, 
began a lockdown on Saturday. With daily cases crossing 40,000, the state is 
aggressively boosting resources, including converting hundreds of industrial 
oxygen cylinders into medical oxygen, said Dr. Amar Fetle, the state's officer 
for COVID-19.

   "The magnitude of cases from last year to now is vastly different," he said, 
adding that increasing numbers have meant more hospitalizations and more strain 
on health care systems, with hospitals running nearly full. "It's become a race 
between occupancy and how fast we can add beds. We're trying to stay ahead of 
the virus as best as we can."

   It's clear infections are rapidly rising across the southern region, but 
there has been "less visible outcry" than in the north because of relatively 
better health infrastructure and government initiatives that address problems 
at the community level, said Jacob John, professor of community medicine at 
Christian Medical College, Vellore.

   But while the virus has ripped through large cities in waves, smaller towns 
and villages where health care is less accessible are now exposed.

   "These places are quickly getting affected, which means we may not have 
sustained the worst yet in south India," he said.

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