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New Delhi locks down amid devastating virus surge

New Delhi imposes a weeklong lockdown to prevent the collapse of the Indian capital’s health system, which authorities said had been pushed to its limit amid an explosive surge in coronavirus cases.

In scenes familiar from surges elsewhere, ambulances catapulted from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed over the weekend, while patients lined up outside of medical facilities waiting to be let in. Ambulances also idled outside of crematoriums, carrying half a dozen dead bodies each.

“People keep arriving, in an almost collapsing situation,” says Dr. Suresh Kumar, who heads Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of New Delhi’s largest hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.

Most desperately need oxygen, Kumar says. But the city is facing shortages of oxygen and some medicine, according to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who tells reporters that the new stringent measures being imposed were required to “prevent a collapse of the health system,” which had “reached its limit.”

Just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic, the virus is now spreading at a rate faster than at any other time, says Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking infections in India.

The surge is devastating for India and has weighed heavily on the global efforts to end the pandemic since the country is a major vaccine producer but has been forced to delay exports of shots abroad, hampering campaigns in developing countries, in particular. In a sign of the high stakes, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines, asked US President Joe Biden on Twitter last week to lift the US embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make the shots.

India reported over 270,000 infections on Monday, its highest daily rise since the pandemic started. It has now recorded more than 15 million infections and more than 178,000 deaths. Experts agree that even these figures are likely undercounts. Amid the rise in cases, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called off a trip to New Delhi.

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