A massive surge of COVID-19 infections in India has so overwhelmed the country’s cremation facilities, last rites have to be performed en masse.

Multiple fire pits burn at once in this facility outside of Mumbai, where relatives and workers in protective gear lay virus victims to rest.

The number of cases across the country of around 1.3 billion rose overnight to 346,786 Saturday, the Health Ministry said, for a total of 16.6 million cases, including 189,544 deaths.

COVID-19 deaths increased by 2,624 in 24 hours, marking the highest daily rate for the country so far. Crematoriums across Delhi said they were full and mass cremation ceremonies were reported at some.

“Every hospital is running out (of oxygen). We are running out,” Dr. Sudhanshu Bankata, executive director of Batra Hospital, a leading hospital in the capital, told New Delhi Television channel.

Multiple funeral pyres of COVID victims burn at a site for mass cremation in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. AP

At least 20 COVID-19 patients in the critical care unit of a New Delhi hospital died overnight Friday as “oxygen pressure was low,” the Indian Express newspaper reported Saturday.

A high court in Delhi warned Saturday it would “hang” anyone who tried to obstruct the delivery of emergency oxygen supplies, amid evidence that some local authorities were diverting tanks to hospitals in their regions.

In another tragedy, 13 COVID-19 patients were killed after a fire erupted early Friday at the hospital where they were being treated outside of Mumbai.

The worst may be yet to come.

A man performs the last rites of his relative who died of COVID-19 as other funeral pyres burn during a mass cremation on April 24, 2021, in New Delhi.Getty Images

Dr. Shahid Jameel, a virologist and director of biosciences at Ashoka University near Delhi, told The Sunday Times of London the peak of this wave was still two weeks away and cases could hit half a million a day.

He said the health care situation was so dire, two or three patients may be sharing the same bed in government hospitals.

“I’ve never ever seen anything like this,” he said.

India imposed a strict lockdown last year when the pandemic started, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resisted any new restrictions. In the face of mounting cases, he did tell Hindu devotees to avoid the Ganges River after millions of pilgrims had bathed together in the sacred waters last month in what has been called a super-spreader event.

A family member wearing personal protective equipment stands next to a body of a woman who died from COVID-19 before her cremation in New Delhi on April 24, 2021.REUTERS

“I said in February that Covid had not gone anywhere and a tsunami would hit us if urgent actions were not taken,” Abdul Fathahudeen, a critical care expert on Kerala state’s COVID-19 taskforce told The Sunday Times of London. “A false sense of normalcy crept in and everybody, including people and officials, did not take measures to stop the second wave. Sadly, a tsunami has indeed hit us now.”

The country has administered only 130 million vaccine jabs, with fewer than 1.5 per cent of recipients receiving two doses, the newspaper reported.

Some scientists believe that the UK coronavirus variant, which helped spread a second wave of cases in the US, may also be to blame in India.

There is also an Indian virus variant with two mutations, which each have the potential to enable the virus to avoid antibodies. the Sunday Times reported saying that so far there is no evidence that they actually do so.

With Post wires

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