India has now recorded more than 16.4 million cases and over 187,700 deaths from the coronavirus
Delhi hospitals issued desperate appeals for oxygen on Friday and 13 Covid-19 patients died in a fire, as India's healthcare system buckles under a new wave of infections.
The surge, blamed on a new virus variant and recent "super spreader" public events, brought 332,730 new infections -- a world record -- and 2,000 deaths reported in the past 24 hours.
India has now recorded more than 16.4 million cases and over 187,700 deaths from the coronavirus. Per capita numbers are however much lower than in many other countries.
The latest in a string of fires at hospitals broke out on the outskirts of Mumbai on Friday morning and killed 13 Covid-19 patients, a local official told AFP.
In Delhi, 25 coronavirus patients have died at Sir Ganga Ram hospital in the last 24 hours amid a last-minute scramble for oxygen, Scroll.in reported citing ANI on Friday.
India's healthcare system has long been underfunded and the new Covid-19 outbreak has caused critical shortages in oxygen, drugs and hospital beds, sparking desperate pleas for help.
Earlier this week, 22 Covid-19 patients died at another hospital in the same state of Maharashtra when the oxygen supply to their ventilators was disrupted by a leak.
India has recorded more than 4 million infections this month, dashing hopes at the start of the year that it may have seen the worst of the pandemic.
The vast Kumbh Mela festival, one of the world's biggest religious gatherings, held in the city of Haridwar between January and this week, attracted an estimated 25 million Hindu pilgrims, mostly without masks or social distancing. Several state elections have meant big campaign rallies.
Many crematoriums and graveyards are struggling to cope. People were desperately queueing outside hospitals and begging for help on social media.
This includes Modi's home state Gujarat, where patients waited for ambulances, gasping for oxygen, outside overwhelmed hospitals. Many private hospitals there have no cylinders left.
The state's medical oxygen needs have soared more than 13-fold since the end of March, a senior government official said. In Rajkot, bodies were being cremated in open ground outside the city.
Many parts of the country have now tightened restrictions, with the capital in lockdown and all non-essential services banned in Maharashtra.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, goes into a shutdown this weekend, as will Karnataka, home to IT hub Bangalore.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday became the latest country to impose travel restrictions on India, suspending flights on one of the world's busiest air corridors. Canada also halted flights from India as well as Pakistan, which has been badly hit too. However, Indonesia will stop issuing visas for foreigners who have been in India in the past 14 days to prevent the spread of different coronavirus strains, a government minister said on Friday.
Modi on Friday held a series of crisis meetings on oxygen supplies and the availability of critical medicines.
"If we work as one nation, there will not be any scarcity of resources," a government statement quoted him as saying, assuring a "continuous effort to increase oxygen supply."
Hospitals in New Delhi have been posting desperate daily appeals for oxygen to the state and national government.
"SOS -- less than an hour's oxygen supplies at Max Smart Hospital & Max Hospital Saket," one of the biggest private hospital chains in India said on Twitter on Friday. "Over 700 patients admitted, need immediate assistance."
At least six hospitals ran out of oxygen supplies in the Indian capital on Thursday night before deliveries arrived in the early hours.
Medical oxygen tanker trucks have been doing supply runs around the clock in a number of states and air force transport planes have started airlifting big oxygen tanks around the country.
The first "Oxygen Express" train left the southern industrial hub of Vizag on Thursday, headed for Maharashtra with trucks carrying supplies on board.
The defence ministry said it would fly in 23 mobile oxygen generation plants from Germany within a week.