India records highest-ever single-day COVID spike in any country; Centre directs states to ensure uninterrupted production, supply of oxygen

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New Delhi, Apr 22 (PTI) Over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases were registered in India, the highest-ever single-day count in any country, as many hospitals grappled with limited oxygen supply, prompting the Centre to issue strict directives on Thursday to states and union territories to ensure uninterrupted production and supply of medical oxygen and its transport.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting to review oxygen supply across the country and asked top officials to work rapidly on increasing its production, boosting the speed of distribution and using innovative ways to provide oxygen support to health facilities.

He will not be visiting West Bengal on Friday to address poll meetings as he will chair high-level meetings here to review the prevailing COVID-19 situation, and will instead address the state voters virtually.

The Supreme Court took note of the 'grim' situation created by the massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths and said it expects the Centre to come out with a 'national plan' to deal with proper distribution of oxygen and essential drugs for the patients.

Observing that oxygen to patients infected with the virus is said to be an 'essential part' of treatment, the apex court said it seems that a certain amount of 'panic' has been generated due to which people have approached several high courts seeking reliefs related to the prevailing situation.

The Delhi High Court observed that the COVID-19 situation in the national capital has turned 'precarious' with many hospitals running out of oxygen and directed the Centre to ensure the gas is supplied to the city as per the planned allocation and without any hindrances.

'As it stands, we all know that this country is being run by God,' a bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said in anguish.

If the government wants it can do anything and can even make 'heaven meet earth', it said.

In the wake of reports that some states blocked supply of medical oxygen to others, the Centre directed states to ensure uninterrupted production and supply of medical oxygen and its transport along inter-state borders and said the district magistrate and superintendent of police of the district concerned will be held responsible if there is any violation of its order. The directive under the stringent Disaster Management Act 2005 was issued by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla. Those who are found to be violating the order will be punishable up to one year of jail or fine or both.

Bhalla said the availability of adequate and uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen is an important pre-requisite for managing moderate and severe cases of COVID-19 and with the increasing cases, the medical oxygen supply will need to keep pace with the requirements of the states and union territories.

According to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Thursday morning, a total of 3,14,835 fresh infections were registered in a span of 24 hours, while the death toll increased to 1,84,657 with a record 2,104 new fatalities. The national recovery rate fell below 85 per cent.

Registering a steady increase for the 43rd day in a row, the active cases have increased to 22,91,428 comprising 14.38 per cent of the total infections, the data showed.

The number of people who have recuperated from the disease went up to to 1,34,54,880. The case fatality rate has further dropped to 1.16 per cent, the data stated.

India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the one-crore mark on December 19 and 1.5 crore on April 19.

According to the ICMR, 27,27,05,103 samples have been tested up to April 21 with 16,51,711 samples being tested on Wednesday.

The 2,104 new fatalities include 568 from Maharashtra, 249 from Delhi, 193 from Chhattisgarh, 187 from Uttar Pradesh, 125 from Gujarat and 116 from Karnataka.

The health ministry stressed that more than 70 per cent of the deaths occurred due to comorbidities.

As Delhi faced shortage of hospital beds, the home ministry said a COVID care centre equipped with 500 oxygen beds will be made operational in the capital and it will be run by doctors and paramedics of border guarding force ITBP.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said his government is making efforts to airlift its enhanced quota of oxygen supply from Odisha. He thanked the Centre and the high court for their efforts towards raising Delhi's oxygen quota for treating COVID 19 patients, and said supplies have started reaching the national capital.

Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal reported highest single-day spike in cases.

Fresh restrictions on travel, attendance in offices and wedding functions came into force on Thursday night in Maharashtra, which is facing an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases and is already under severe restrictions since April 14.

The new restrictions under the government's 'Break-the-Chain' programme will remain effective till 7 am on May 1.

According to an order issued by Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, government offices - central, state and local authorities - will work with 15 per cent attendance except those in emergency services directly connected to management of the pandemic.

Other offices, allowed to operate as per the existing rules, will function with 15 per cent strength or five people, whichever is more, stated the order.

Only government personnel and those in emergency services would be allowed to use suburban trains, metro and mono services in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, it said.

All those engaged in medical services - doctors, nurses, paramedics, lab technicians and clinical staff - will be issued travel passes on basis of identity cards. However, patients needing medical treatment and specially-abled persons can travel in trains, the order said.

Municipal and state transport buses will operate at 50 per cent capacity with no standing passengers.

Marriage ceremonies have to be conducted as a single event in a single hall not extending beyond two hours with maximum of 25 person in attendance, the order said, adding violation will attract a fine of Rs 50,000.

For inter-city and inter-district travel by long-distance trains and buses, the local Railways/state transport authorities will ensure screening of passengers, the order said. PTI TEAM ZMN