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India orders army to help as Covid-19 cases hit another record peak

India records 350,000 new infections; Britain, Germany and the US pledge to send urgent medical aid

NEW DELHI India's coronavirus cases hit a record peak for a fifth day yesterday, as infections rose by 352,991. There were 2,812 deaths as hospital beds and oxygen continued to be in short supply.

The country yesterday ordered its armed forces to help tackle surging infections that are overwhelming hospitals, as Britain, Germany and the US pledged to send urgent medical aid.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, said oxygen would be released to hospitals from armed forces reserves, and retired medical military personnel would join health facilities.

Where possible, military medical infrastructure will be made available to civilians, a government statement said.

"Air, rail, road & sea; heaven & earth are being moved to overcome challenges thrown up by this wave of Covid-19," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Twitter.

The southern state of Karnataka, home to the tech city of Bengaluru, ordered a 14-day lockdown from today, joining the western industrial state of Maharashtra, where lockdowns run until May 1, although some states are set to lift lockdown measures this week.

The patchy curbs, complicated by local elections and mass festival gatherings, could prompt breakouts elsewhere, with crowded hospitals running out of oxygen supplies and beds.

"Currently, the hospital is in beg-and-borrow mode and it is an extreme crisis situation," said a spokesman for the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the capital, New Delhi.

Television channel NDTV broadcast images of three health workers in the eastern state of Bihar pulling a body along the ground on its way to cremation, as stretchers ran short.

SENDING AID

Several countries promised aid. The US will immediately send raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to help India, US President Joe Biden said on Sunday.

"Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need," Mr Biden said on Twitter after the White House announced a list of measures.

National Security Council spokesman Emily Horne said US officials were "working around the clock" to deploy available resources and supplies to help India manufacture the Covishield vaccine and tend to the millions who are sick and dying.

The US will also send therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits and ventilators.

Washington was under mounting pressure to help India after Britain, France and Germany pledged aid over the weekend.

The EU as a whole is also preparing rapid assistance for India, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

"Alarmed by the epidemiological situation in India. We are ready to support," she said on Twitter.

"The EU is pooling resources to respond rapidly to India's request for assistance via the EU civil protection mechanism."

The mechanism allows European Union countries to coordinate their aid in cases of emergency. - REUTERS, AFP

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