Officials in Delhi have been urged to find more sites for cremations as the city’s morgues and crematoriums are overwhelmed by masses of Covid deaths.
A second wave of the virus is ravaging parts of India, with 386,452 new cases reported on Thursday – the biggest one-day increase on record for any country.
There were another 3,500 deaths nationwide on Thursday and nearly 400 in Delhi – a record for the capital.
The total number of infections in the country has now passed 18 million.
The first consignment of emergency medical supplies from the US arrived in India in Friday, part of what the White House has said will be more than $100 million worth of support.
But oxygen supplies and hospital beds remain in desperately short supply across the country and relatives of Covid patients continue to plead on social media for help.
One senior Delhi police officer said that people were having to cremate family members in crematoriums not designated to take victims of Covid-19.
“That’s why we suggested more crematoriums should be set up,” the officer told the NDTV news channel.
India’s central government is facing mounting criticism over its handling of the pandemic and its decision to allow large election rallies and religious festivals to go ahead in recent weeks.
The health minister defended the government on Thursday, saying the country’s fatality rate was the lowest in the world and that oxygen supplies were “adequate”.
Harsh Vardhan told ANI news agency that oxygen was now “being made available from many sources” including those from abroad, and that storage and cryogenic tankers were also being prepared.
A US military plane landed in New Delhi on Friday morning, loaded with almost one million rapid Covid tests and 100,000 N95 masks.
Jeremy Konyndyk, the executive director of the Covid task force at the US Agency for International Development, told AFP news agency that their first priority was to address India’s most “immediate needs”.
“We also need to support them to address some of the underlying challenges, which is really about the volume of medical-grade oxygen that the country can produce,” he said.
On Saturday, all adults above the age of 18 in India will become eligible for vaccination, but there are widespread concerns about the availability of shots. India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines but does not have enough stock for the estimated 800 million people who will become eligible.
A number of states are reporting shortages of the vaccine. India’s financial capital, Mumbai, home to more than 20 million people, has suspended its vaccination drive for three days due to “depletion of available vaccines”, the civic body said in a statement.
The municipal commissioner of Mumbai, Ashwini Bhide, said on Twitter that the city would reserve current stocks for people aged over 45 years old.