Coronavirus cases in India cross 500,000 as big cities falter on the rise

Healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk to different locations before the start of a coronavirus disease control field (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India, June 27, 2020. REUTERS / Francis Mascarenhas

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reported more than 17,000 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to more than 500,000, data from the Federal Health Ministry showed on Saturday, with infections in major cities, including the capital New Delhi.

India has the world’s fourth largest outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19, behind the United States, Brazil and Russia in confirmed infections, according to a Reuters count.

Infections are expected to continue to increase steadily in India. Experts advising the federal government say authorities should now prioritize reducing mortality rather than containing the spread of the virus.

“Our focus should be on preventing deaths and not really getting bogged down by the numbers. The numbers are going to increase, “said Dr. Manoj Murhekar, a member of India’s leading coronavirus task force and director of the National Institute of Epidemiology.

The VOC-IND-19 study group, led by Bhramar Mukherjee, professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan, predicts that India could see between 770,000 and 925,000 cases by July 15.

As infections increase rapidly and hospitals stretch, some cities like New Delhi are struggling to build temporary facilities with thousands of beds to quarantine and treat patients with COVID-19.

The city of around 20 million people only has around 13,200 beds for COVID-19 patients and will add at least 20,000 in the coming weeks, with some facilities manned by army and paramilitary doctors.

Staff shortages are likely to be a concern as hospitals are flooded and more temporary facilities are opening, experts warn, though health authorities in some Indian cities are pushing to improve risk-based patient categorization.

“We have to make sure that those who really need treatment are not denied services,” said Dr. Giridhar R. Babu, an epidemiologist at the Indian Public Health Foundation who advises the southern state of Karnataka.

Devjyot Ghoshal’s report; Editing by Alasdair Pal and William Mallard

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