Health officials across northern and western India including the capital New Delhi said they were in crisis on Thursday, with most hospitals full and running out of oxygen.
Some doctors advised patients to stay at home while a crematorium in the eastern city of Muzaffarpur said it was being overwhelmed with bodies and grieving families had to wait their turn.
A crematorium east of Delhi built funeral pyres in its parking lot.
“Right now there are no beds, no oxygen. Everything else is secondary,” said Shahid Jameel, a virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University.
“The infrastructure is crumbling.”
Six hospitals in New Delhi had run out of oxygen, according to a tally shared by the city government, and the city’s deputy chief minister said neighbouring states were holding back supplies for their own needs.
“It might become difficult for hospitals here to save lives,” Manish Sisodia said in a televised address.
Another 2104 people died in the space of a day, taking India’s cumulative toll to 184,657, according to the health ministry data.
The previous record rise in cases was in the United States, which had 297,430 new cases on one day in January although its infection rate has since fallen sharply.
Television showed images of people with empty oxygen cylinders crowding refilling facilities, hoping to save relatives in hospital.
In the western city of Ahmedabad, a man strapped to an oxygen cylinder lay in the back of a car outside a hospital as he waited for a bed.
“Helplessness,” tweeted former foreign secretary Nirupama Menon Rao.
“We never thought a second wave would hit us so hard,” Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairman of the healthcare firm Biocon, wrote in the Economic Times.
“Complacency led to unanticipated shortages of medicines, medical supplies and hospital beds.”
Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said the city needed about 5000 more intensive care beds.
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