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NHS director fears for mum, 82, in India as Covid cases hit one million in three days

Sumita Singha told of her frustration at being unable to help her unvaccinated mum living in Delhi as the country's battle with the pandemic spirals out of control

An NHS director fears for her unvaccinated 82-year-old mother in India as Covid-19 cases in the country hit a terrifying one million in three days.

Sumita Singha, 56, non-executive director at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, moved to the UK from India in 1988.

Her mother Namita Sinha lives with Sumita's sister in an apartment in Delhi where coronavirus cases are spiralling out of control and hospitals are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.

Makeshift mass cremations are being held to deal with the scale of the deaths, with reports of grieving relatives being forced to keep bodies of loved ones at home for days while they try to find space.

India was added to the UK's travel red list at 4am on Friday, meaning arrivals from the country must now enter quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Devastating scenes show people cremating the bodies of Covid-19 victims at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India (Image: REUTERS)
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The country's number of cases surged by 349,691 in the past 24 hours, the fourth straight day of record peaks, while yesterday saw a record death toll for the third day running.

Sumita's mother, who has not left her Delhi apartment for months, was recently offered the Covishield vaccine – a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in India.

However while the family were discussing whether she should take it, the new wave of Covid cases in India convinced them it was best for Mrs Sinha to stay in her flat and reduce her risk of exposure.

Sumita, who said she was not speaking on behalf of the NHS, said: "We can't afford to let my mum get ill. I just feel very sad (and) a bit unable to help her.

Sumita Singha (right) with her mother Namita Sinha, who she has not been able to see since 2019 (Image: PA)
Patients wear medical oxygen masks outside hospital as they wait to be admitted in Kolkata, India (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

"I feel sort of embarrassed because I've had the Covid vaccination here.

"I work for the NHS, so it's kind of ironic that I've got the vaccination and I have means for regular testing, but my own mum is not able to access all that.

"We don't want her going into any hospital environment, for her own safety - but there are people in greater need than us."

India's underfunded health system is struggling amid the world's worst coronavirus surge.

More than 16 million cases have been confirmed so far in India - a country of nearly 1.4 billion people - second only to the USA.

Among those to have died recently are some of Mrs Sinha's neighbours. Meanwhile, Sumita said she has heard stories of damaging superstitions.

Hospitals across India have been facing an acute shortage of oxygen in the past week (Image: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock)
A man was given precious oxygen on the spot provided by Sikh Organization at Gurdwara in India (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

"People don't wear masks all the time, there's a rumour going around that Indians are immune to Covid," she said.

"I think it's people's way of coping, they create these little superstitions. It's very unfortunate because there are people who are not well educated and they tend to believe that that's actually true.

"Indian doctors and nurses and clinicians are working really hard, they are inundated. It's really quite heart-rending to see."

Sumita's mother, who she calls twice a week, remains upbeat however.

She said: "My mum is a wonderful human being. I spoke to her a couple of days ago and we were just kind of joking and she said something like 'prayers and luck.'

"She's always cheerful, I've never seen her cry actually - she's a really tough person."

India set a new global record of the most number of coronavirus infections in a day, as the United States said it was racing to send help to the country.

Relatives perform the last rites of loved ones who have died during India's latest wave (Image: Getty Images)
Devastating photos show people cremating bodies in the streets of Delhi in India
Devastating images show people cremating bodies in the streets (Image: REUTERS)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter : "Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak.

"We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India's health care heroes."

The US has faced criticism in India for its export controls on raw materials for vaccines put in place via the Defense Production Act and an associated export embargo in February.

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, this month urged Joe Biden to lift the embargo on US exports of raw materials that is hurting its production of AstraZeneca shots.

Others such as US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release unused vaccines to India.

India was added to the UK's travel red list on Friday (Image: REUTERS)
India put oxygen tankers on special express trains to save Covid-19 patients who are struggling to breathe (Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

He said: "When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can't let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they'll save lives."

India's total tally of infections stands at 16.96 million and deaths 192,311 after 2,767 more died overnight, health ministry data showed.

In the last month alone, daily cases have gone up eight times and deaths by ten times. Health experts say the death count is probably far higher.

People were arranging stretchers and oxygen cylinders outside hospitals as they desperately pleaded for authorities to take patients in, Reuters photographers said.

"Every day, it the same situation, we are left with two hours of oxygen, we only get assurances from the authorities," one doctor said on television.

The US said it was racing to help India as the country set a new global record of daily Covid infections (Image: SIPA USA/PA Images)

The surge is expected to peak in mid-May with the daily count of infections reaching half a million, the Indian Express said citing an internal government assessment.

V.K. Paul, a COVID-task force leader, made the presentation during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said the health infrastructure in heavily populated states is not adequate enough to cope.

Experts said India became complacent in the winter, when new cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control.

Authorities lifted restrictions, allowing for the resumption of big gatherings.

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