'Ticking time bomb:' Lack of beds slows Delhi's virus fight

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In this Wednesday, June 10, 2020 photo, people enquire about their relatives from a health worker at a COVID designated hospital in New Delhi, India. Two and a half months of nationwide lockdown kept numbers of infections relatively low in India. But with restrictions easing in recent weeks, cases have shot up, raising questions about whether authorities have done enough to avert catastrophe. Half of Delhis 8,200 hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients are already full and officials are projecting more than half a million cases in the city alone by July 31. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI – In New Delhi, a sprawling capital region of 46 million and home to some of India's highest concentration of hospitals, a pregnant woman’s death after a frantic hunt for a sickbed was a worrying sign about the country’s ability to cope with a wave of new coronavirus cases.

“She kept begging us to save her life, but we couldn’t do anything,” Shailendra Kumar said, after driving his sister-in-law, Neelam, and her husband for hours, only to be turned away at eight public and private hospitals.

Two and a half months of nationwide lockdown kept numbers of infections relatively low in India. But with restrictions easing in recent weeks, cases have shot up, rising by a record of nearly 10,000 on Thursday, raising questions about whether authorities have done enough to avert catastrophe.

India’s tally has reached 286,579, the fifth highest in the world, with 8,102 deaths. In Delhi, which has reported 32,810 cases including 984 deaths, the rate of infection is higher than the national average, doubling every 12 days.

Half of Delhi's 8,200 hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients are already full and officials are projecting more than half a million cases in the city alone by July 31.

“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum.

“Unless and until the government increases its spending on health care, things won’t change. A lot of people will die," he said. "But if some strong policy decisions are made not only in Delhi but across India, we can minimize the damage.”

Private hospitals in Delhi — a wider territory that encompasses New Delhi — report that all of their sickbeds and ventilators are in use. Severely ill people have been turned away from public hospitals, too.