India turns to ex-army medics amid COVID-19 surge

NARINDER NANU / AFP

India will recruit hundreds of former army medics to support its overwhelmed healthcare system, the defence ministry said on Sunday.

The country is grappling with record COVID-19 infections and deaths amid calls for a complete nationwide lockdown.

Some 400 medical officers are expected to serve on contract for a maximum of 11 months, the ministry said in a press release, adding that other defence doctors had also been contacted for online consultations.

COVID-19 cases and deaths have been hitting records every two or three days. Deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday.

Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.

But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as it did during the first wave last year.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) called for a "complete, well-planned, pre-announced" lockdown instead of sporadic night curfews and restrictions imposed by states for a few days at a time.

"IMA is astonished to see the extreme lethargy and inappropriate actions from the ministry of health in combating the agonizing crisis born out of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic," it said in a statement on Saturday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top White House coronavirus adviser, said on Sunday he has advised Indian authorities they need to shut down.

"You’ve got to shut down. I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down," Fauci said on ABC's "This Week" television program.

Modi is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies over the past two months even as COVID-19 cases were surging.

The health ministry reported 4,092 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.

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