(TNS)

India saw its deadliest day of the pandemic yet with 3,689 deaths reported in the last 24 hours, as the caseload surged to 19.5 million with 392,488 fresh infections, government data showed Sunday.

This is the fourth straight day India has recorded more than 3,000 deaths as the second wave of the pandemic carries on unabated and keeps setting grim records. Altogether, 215,542 people have died from COVID-19.

India became the first country to cross 400,000 daily cases on Saturday.

It recorded 6.6 million infections and 45,000 deaths in April, compared to the little over 1.2 million cases and 5,417 deaths in March, broadcaster NDTV reported.

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Health care systems are overwhelmed, and a shortage of medical oxygen has emerged as the most serious challenge.

Thirty-four patients died for alleged want of oxygen in hospitals in the national capital, New Delhi, and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Haryana on Saturday, the Times of India reported.

Thirty-one more with COVID-19-like symptoms and "breathing difficulties" died in a hospital in Uttar Pradesh state, the report cited authorities as saying.

The Delhi High Court has warned that it will start punishing officials if life-saving supplies of oxygen and medical supplies don't make it to hospitals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday held a meeting with experts and officials to tide over the oxygen and drugs crisis.

Indian Railways has converted 4,000 railway carriages into "isolation coaches" with 64,000 beds. As many as 213 coaches had been handed to various states for COVID-19 care, it said.

While the worst-affected cities and states like New Delhi and Mahrashtra are in prolonged lockdowns, states like Odisha and Haryana also announced new lockdowns to halt the spread of infections in rural areas.

India's COVID-19 task force has pushed hard for a nationwide lockdown to help subdue the second wave, the Indian Express daily reported.

India opened a new round of its vaccinations on Saturday, extending coverage for all those above 18 years old, but only a handful of states were able to deliver the jabs owing to a shortage of vaccines.

Despite being among the world's leading producer of vaccines, India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, has run short and also placed a temporary hold on exports to meet the domestic demands.

Meanwhile, international aid is arriving from the United States, Germany and 40 other countries that have promised support to India as its health care system is pushed to the brink and beyond.

Medical equipment including hospital-level oxygen generators and anti-viral drug remdesivir arrived from France and Belgium on Sunday, India's foreign ministry said.

Britain announced that it wanted to send an additional 1,000 ventilators to India, following a first delivery of 200 ventilators, nearly 500 oxygen concentrators and three oxygen generators.

But even as Britain continues to make strides with its mass vaccinations, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab was hesitant about sending vaccines to India, saying no such requests had been received.

The British scientific community and opposition have called for vaccines to be sent to India or at least to give the country an outstanding shipment of several million vaccine doses produced in India.

Epidemiologists have been calling on Western countries, where vaccinations are continuing apace, to share their vaccines to prevent the development of new coronavirus strains from surging infections.

India, the worst-affected country worldwide after the United States, is in the grip of a second wave that began mid-February.

The actual number of cases and deaths was likely to be higher than the numbers provided by authorities, with many people avoiding testing and many deaths going unregistered.

Experts attribute the rapid spread of cases to more infectious variants of the virus and people's failure to observe safety measures. The government has also been criticized for allowing millions of people to gather for religious festivals and state election rallies since March.

©2021 dpa GmbH. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.