People attend cremation of their family members who lost their lives to Covid-19 at Daraganj Ghat in Prayagraj. (PTI Photo)

INDIA’S toll from the coronavirus surged past 200,000 on Wednesday (28), as shortages of oxygen, medical supplies and hospital staff compounded a record number of new infections.

The second wave of the pandemic has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week, overwhelming healthcare facilities and crematoriums and fuelling an increasingly urgent international response.

The last 24 hours brought 360,960 new cases for the world’s largest single-day total, taking India’s tally of infections to nearly 18 million. It was also the deadliest day so far, with 3,293 fatalities carrying the toll to 201,187.

However, experts believe the official tally vastly underestimates the actual toll in a nation of 1.35 billion.

Ambulances lined up for hours in the capital, New Delhi, to take the bodies of Covid-19 victims to makeshift crematorium facilities in parks and parking lots, where bodies burned on rows of funeral pyres.

The patients, many struggling for breath, flocked to a Sikh temple on the city’s outskirts, hoping to secure some of its limited supplies of oxygen.

Hospitals in and around the capital said oxygen remained scarce, despite commitments to step up supplies.

“We make hundreds of calls and send messages every day to get our daily quota of oxygen,” Dr Devlina Chakravarty, of the Artemis hospital in the suburb of Gurgaon, wrote in the Times of India newspaper.

The Mayom Hospital nearby has stopped new admissions unless patients brought oxygen cylinders or concentrators with them, its chief executive, Manish Prakash, told television channel NDTV.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said people were falling sick more severely and for longer, stacking up the pressure.

“The current wave is particularly dangerous,” he said.

“It is supremely contagious and those who are contracting it are not able to recover as swiftly. In these conditions, intensive care wards are in great demand.”

Credit rating agency S&P Global said India’s second wave of infections could impede its economic recovery and expose other nations to further waves of outbreaks.

The Asia-Pacific region, in particular, was susceptible to contagion from the highly infectious variants in India, given the region’s low ratios of vaccination, it added.

Tech firms in the southern city of Bengaluru and elsewhere set up “war rooms” as they scrambled to source oxygen, medicine and hospital beds for infected workers and maintain backroom operations for the world’s biggest financial firms.

Vaccination drive in India begun in January and have averaged about 2.8 million doses a day since an April 5 peak of 4.5 million, government data shows.

More than 121 million people have received at least one dose, or about 9 per cent of the population.

Later on Wednesday (28), India will allow all above 18 to register for vaccination, starting from May 1. About 800 million are estimated to become eligible.

US president Joe Biden said he had spoken at length with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on issues such as when the United States would be able to ship vaccines to the South Asian nation, and added that it was his clear intention to do so.

“I think we’ll be in a position to be able to share vaccines, as well as know-how, with other countries who are in real need. That’s the hope and expectation,” he had told reporters at the White House on Tuesday (27).