India breaks global record for highest number of daily COVID-19 infections

Health care workers doing door-to-door checkups, take a woman's temperature in Mumbai, India on July 2, 2020.
Health care workers doing door-to-door checkups, take a woman's temperature in Mumbai, India on July 2, 2020. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

India's outbreak is rapidly worsening as it struggles with oxygen shortages, overwhelmed hospitals and rolling out vaccines for its large population.

India logged more than 314,000 new coronavirus infections on Thursday (Apr. 22), the highest number of single-day cases reported globally since the start of the pandemic, according to The New York Times. The previous record was set by the U.S. on Jan. 8 with a single-day count of 300,669 new coronavirus cases. 

India has recorded a total of 15.9 million COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic, second only to the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University dashboard. The country has logged more than 184,600 deaths in total, up by 2,104 since yesterday.

Related:  Quick guide: COVID-19 vaccines in use and how they work

Crowds are forming outside overwhelmed hospitals and people are dying while waiting for oxygen, according to The BBC. Oxygen supply in the country has massively dipped, with some hospitals in Delhi completely running out and others running low. In a meeting on Thursday (April 22) Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked officials to find ways to produce more oxygen and to really crack down on anyone hoarding supplies, according to the BBC.

Hospitals are understaffed, intensive care units are full, nearly all ventilators are in use and the dead are piling up at crematoriums, according to The Associated Press. "I get numerous calls every day from patients desperate for a bed. The demand is far too much than the supply," Dr. Sanjay Gururaj, a doctor at Bengaluru-based Shanti Hospital and Research Center told The Associated Press. "I try to find beds for patients every day, and it’s been incredibly frustrating to not be able to help them. In the last week, three patients of mine have died at home because they were unable to get beds. As a doctor, it’s an awful feeling."

India is not implementing a national lockdown but regions are setting their own restrictions, according to the BBC. Delhi, where one in three people are testing positive for COVID-19, announced a week-long lockdown starting next week, according to The BBC.

India's COVID-19 cases had dropped for 30 consecutive weeks starting last September; but then they started to rise again in mid-February. Experts told the AP that the country did not use that opportunity to vaccinate quickly enough to outpace disease spread and improve healthcare infrastructure.

India administers about 2.7 million vaccine doses a day, which isn't that much different than the U.S. pace of around 3.02 million doses per day. But India's massive population of 1.4 billion people — more than four times the population of the U.S. —makes the vaccine rollout difficult. less than 10% of India's population has gotten their first of two shots, according to the AP.

This extreme surge in cases may have been driven by the spread of new variants including a "double mutant" variant that seems to both spread more easily and evade some antibodies, a massive Hindu festival known as Kumbh Mela that millions of people attended, big election rallies and relaxed safety protocols, according to the BBC.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.