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What you need to know about the deadly coronavirus surge in India

Patients inside a ward set up at the Commonwealth Games Village Sports Complex in New Delhi.T. Narayan/Bloomberg

The coronavirus is surging in India, causing illness and deaths and overwhelming the health care system. Here, compiled from Globe wire service and major media reports, is a quick briefing on the alarming situation:

What do the numbers say?

India reported an unprecedented 352,991 new infections and 2,812 deaths on Monday for the prior 24 hours, though the actual toll may be much higher. It was the fifth day India has broken the world record for cases in a country. Cases have skyrocketed there since the middle of March.

An expert told Bloomberg TV Monday that the peak of the surge won’t be reached for two or three weeks, and projections suggest that at the peak the “numbers will probably be three or four times that we have right now.”


The closely watched model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts a staggering toll of nearly 1 million deaths in India by Aug. 1.

Is this a surprise?

The surge certainly surprised the country’s leaders, who had trumpeted that the worst was over, The Associated Press reported. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January declared victory over the virus, telling the virtual gathering of the World Economic Forum that India’s success couldn’t be compared with anywhere else.

In the second week of March, India’s health minister declared that the country was “in the endgame” of the pandemic. The country exported both oxygen and vaccines that it would desperately need later.

How did it happen?

Researchers believe there could be a number of factors at work in the surge, including the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom and the B.1.617 variant from India; relaxed restrictions that led people to mingle, including at political rallies and religious observances; and low vaccine coverage.

How unprotected is the population? Fewer than 10 percent of Indians have received even one dose, and just 1.6 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database. By contrast, as of Monday, the CDC reported 42.5 percent of Americans have received one shot and 28.9 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.


How has the health system fared?

The Associated Press paints a heartbreaking picture of hospital oxygen supplies running out, intensive care units operating at full capacity, and nearly all ventilators in use. The night skies in some Indian cities glow from the funeral pyres, as crematoria are overwhelmed and bodies are burned outside in the open air.

What are other countries doing to help India?

The White House said the U.S. is “working around the clock” to deploy testing kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment, and it would seek to provide oxygen supplies as well. It said it would also make available sources of raw material urgently needed to manufacture Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.

President Joe Biden said in a tweet, “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.”

The Biden administration on Monday announced yet another step, saying it would send 60 million doses of AstraZeneca PLC’s coronavirus vaccine to other countries. The U.S. AstraZeneca doses will be released “as they become available,” White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said in a tweet. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved in the United States.


Britain, Germany, and India’s archrival Pakistan are among other countries offering aid.

What are the experts saying?

Experts are saying that India’s dire plight should be a cautionary tale — and they’re calling for other nations to step up to help. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tweeted, “The unfolding catastrophe in India is a lesson that this pandemic is still in progress and countries that have so far been spared remain at risk for very serious impacts.”

Some well-known local experts on the U.S. pandemic have noted their own personal connections to India, including Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and Dr. Atul Gawande, the renowned writer and surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who also co-founded one of the three companies operating Massachusetts mass vaccination sites.

“This is extremely frightening. Seeing this go through entire households of my family there,” Gawande wrote last week, while retweeting a Financial Times journalist’s deep dive into the latest coronavirus statistics from India.

Jha wrote in a tweet last week that daily case increases in India were “terrifying” and reported that family and friends in India said it was “as bad as it seems.”

Jha, in a Washington Post opinion piece on Saturday, argued, “Only the United States has the capacity, resources and technical know-how to bend the curve of India’s catastrophic second wave of disease. The faster we assist our ally, the more lives will be saved. One democracy coming to the aid of another in this time of crisis is exactly what the world needs now. It will be good for India. It will be good for the United States. And it will make the world a safer place.”


Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.

Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.