India surpasses 25 million COVID-19 cases as powerful cyclone slows response effort

A cyclone pummeled India on Monday, the nation’s deadliest day of the pandemic, as the country also surpassed a grave milestone: 25 million COVID-19 cases.

India, now the global epicenter of the pandemic, is seeing this second wave of infection only worsen as response efforts have been made more difficult by Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, which made landfall in Gujarat on Monday night.

The storm was the strongest to hit the region in more than two decades, with sustained winds of 103 mph, the India Meteorological Department said, hitting the states of Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra the hardest.

India recorded at least 20 dead and 125 missing at sea following the cyclone’s arrival, which knocked out electricity in Goa. Over 150,000 people had already been evacuated ahead of the storm, and 177 navy personnel were rescued, according to the Indian Navy.

PHOTO: Funeral pyres for COVID-19 victims burn during a mass funeral at a makeshift cremation ground at Giddenahalli in Bangalore, India, May 18, 2021.

Tauktae weakened into a cyclonic storm Tuesday, then into a deep depression, IMD reported.

Devastating footage from the ground revealed powerful waves beating coastal cities, heavily flooded streets and highways, pounding rain and toppled trees and power lines.

In the midst of the natural disaster, India reported 4,329 COVID-19-related deaths on Monday. As of Tuesday, more than 25 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported, along with at least 278,719 deaths, according to John Hopkins data.

The U.S. is the only nation to have a single day with more virus-related deaths than Indian, with 5,444 dying on Feb. 12, according to Reuters.

There have been efforts to help curb the spread of COVID-19 among those evacuated from coastal areas, with relief shelters encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing.

Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has seen a 30% spike in infections since May 2, Reuters reported.

PHOTO: Health workers wearing PPE suits can be seen at a banquet hall turned into a Covid-19 coronavirus care center after surge in cases in New Delhi, May 18, 2021.

Vaccine efforts in the state were suspended for two days due to the storm, and many inundated hospitals were forced to wait for back-up generators and oxygen supplies.

Sunaina Tomar, the energy secretary in Gujarat state, told Reuters that 81 hospitals for COVID-19 patients faced power disruptions, along with 16 other hospitals and 19 oxygen-refilling plants. Many of those locations have since had electricity restored.

Maharashtra suffered 1,000 coronavirus deaths overnight — the most in the nation, according to the government’s COVID-19 tracker. The infection rate there soared by 15% in the last two weeks while the vaccine rollout has slowed by 30% since peaking in early April, according to government data collected by Reuters.

The state has the most COVID-19 cases in the country at more than 4.8 million, according to India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, paused vaccine exports a month ago after donating or selling millions of doses. The nation has seen a slowdown in its vaccination rollout and hospitals have become overwhelmed with virus patients and shortages of supplies.

About 184 million vaccine doses have been distributed so far in India, the nation’s health ministry reported.

India is likely to be one of the countries that will benefit from U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement on Monday that his administration will send at least 20 million more vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.

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