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Coronavirus cases in India hit 100,000 as super cyclone looms

Fears grow over country's ability to cope as super cyclone barrels towards land

INDIA: Coronavirus cases in India reached 100,000 yesterday, matching its number of intensive care beds, and the rate of increase of new infections showed little sign of slowing.

India reported 4,970 new cases over the previous 24 hours, taking its total to 101,139. Deaths rose by 134 to 3,163.

If that was not bad enough, India has had to evacuate tens of thousands as a super cyclone with winds of up to 240kmh barrels towards land.

Health experts and officials are worried about the strain the epidemic is placing on India's over-stretched and under-funded hospital system.

Professor Dhruva Chaudhry, president of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, told Reuters last month that India probably had about 100,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 40,000 ventilators.

He warned there was not sufficient infrastructure or staff in the country of 1.35 billion people to handle a sharp spike in the number of critical patients.

While not every coronavirus patient needs an ICU bed, health experts worry about surging cases in India, particularly as many believe the official tally falls short of the reality.

India has not provided a detailed breakdown on the condition of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, although the authorities have reported that about 37,000 people have recovered.

India officially extended its lockdown on Sunday to May 31, although several states indicated they would allow businesses to reopen.

Safe distancing has complicated matters with regards to the cyclone, as millions of people prepared to be moved to safety as Cyclon Ampang barrelled towards India.

Cyclone Amphan is expected to pack winds gusting up to 240kmh when it hits eastern India and Bangladesh this afternoon or evening, and with a storm surge of several metres, forecasters said.

EVACUATE

West Bengal state official Manturam Pakhira said more than 200,000 people were being evacuated from coastal districts and the Sundarbans, a vast mangrove forest area.

Mr Arjun Manna, who works for the World Wide Fund for Nature in the Sundarbans, said loud speakers were urging locals "to wear a mask and maintain social distancing in the shelters".

In Odisha state, relief commissioner Pradeep Kumar Jena told AFP that 20,000 people had been evacuated, with 600 disaster teams "pre-positioned" and contractors standing by with diggers and chainsaws.

"We will evacuate more people depending on the situation. No one will be allowed to stay in huts with thatched roofs in coastal areas," he said. - REUTERS, AFP

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