India has called on security forces to step up its fight against Covid-19, deploy soldiers and build field hospitals as the country’s health system threatens to collapse from a deluge of infections.
In the capital, New Delhi, one of the most affected cities, Indo-Tibetan border police reopened an emergency treatment facility built during the first wave of coronavirus last year. The armed forces said they would add more sites.
General Bipin Rawat, chief of the Indian defense staff, added that recently retired military medics would be recalled to treat sick patients.
Rooms in a five-star hotel in central Delhi were also converted into Covid-19 treatment facilities for judicial officers and their families at the request of the Delhi Supreme Court. The redevelopment sparked bitter accusations that the powerful were receiving special treatment while many of the sick in the city died from a lack of hospital beds.
The country faces a critical shortage of beds, oxygen and other life-saving medical supplies as the second wave shatters global records. India is reporting more cases than any country since the start of the pandemic, with a further 320,000 dead on Tuesday and 2,700.
Still, the true toll of the outbreak is believed to be much higher, as many patients cannot be tested or treated and many deaths have not been recorded or misreported. In many parts of the country, the number of suspected Covid-19 victims arriving at cremation and cemeteries far exceeds the official number of deaths.
International partners, including the US, UK and EU, are providing emergency supplies, including oxygen and vaccines, amid mounting alarms about the little-understood variant B. 1,617 that has surfaced in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of mismanaging – and even exacerbating – the crisis by not doing enough to build health care capacity and dismantling the emergency structures put in place last year.
His Bharatiya Janata party, which has sought to dampen public anger and criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, declared victory over the pandemic in February.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s prime minister, said the reopened police facility will be expanded to 2,000 beds of oxygen in the coming days.
Indians venting their frustration and despair on social media have been criticized by BJP supporters for fueling ‘negativity’, and the government has ordered companies, including Twitter and Facebook, to remove some critical posts.
Yogi Adityanath, BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, threatened to invoke draconian national security laws to seize the properties of those “scattered rumors” of oxygen shortages and use social media to “spoil the atmosphere.”
The influential Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of the BJP, warned that “anti-Indian forces” could take advantage of the health emergency to stir up discontent.
Dattatreya Hosable, general secretary of RSS, warned the Indians to be alert to “the conspiracies of these destructive forces” and urged the public to “help maintain an atmosphere of positivity, hope and confidence in the society”.
The US, which has been criticized for stockpiling vaccines and imposing restrictions on exports of the raw materials used in their production, said it would send supplies to India to boost the lagging vaccination campaign.