India is facing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, buckling the country’s weak healthcare system and overwhelming the nation’s ability to cremate and bury its dead.
The world’s second-most populous nation recorded 379,257 new cases Thursday, a daily record for any country since the coronavirus first emerged more than a year ago. It also reported 3,645 deaths, the most in a single day in India. The actual numbers of infections and deaths are believed to be significantly higher.
The outbreak is being blamed on a so-called double mutant variant of the coronavirus that’s believed to be highly infectious. A vaccine drive has sputtered due to limited doses.
India’s leaders had earlier boasted of defeating the virus after the country of 1.4 billion reported only a few thousand cases in January. That led to relaxed social restrictions and mass gatherings at cricket matches, election rallies and religious festivals that experts say became superspreader events.
Overcrowded health facilities are now turning away sickened patients, many of whom are dying outside hospital gates. People are scrambling to buy oxygen tanks, one of the most valuable commodities in India as a result of the outbreak.
The number of COVID-19 victims has so overwhelmed the country that furnaces in some crematories have begun to melt. Family members have had to cremate their loved ones in parking lots and along roadsides. Firewood is rationed and sparse in some places because of the abundance of funeral pyres.