EXPLAINER: Why India is shattering global infection records

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Multiple funeral pyres of those patients who died of COVID-19 disease are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for mass cremation of coronavirus victims, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (AP Photo)

NEW DELHI – The world's fastest pace of spreading infections and the highest daily increase in coronavirus cases are pushing India further into a deepening and deadly health care crisis.

India is massive — it's the world's second-most populous country with nearly 1.4 billion people — and its size presents extraordinary challenges to fighting COVID-19.

Some 2.7 million vaccine doses are given daily, but that's still less than 10% of its people who've gotten their first shot. Overall, India has confirmed 15.9 million cases of infection, the second highest after the United States, and 184,657 deaths.

The latest surge has driven India's fragile health systems to the breaking point: Understaffed hospitals are overflowing with patients. Medical oxygen is in short supply. Intensive care units are full. Nearly all ventilators are in use, and the dead are piling up at crematoriums and graveyards.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Authorities were lulled into believing the worst was behind them when cases started to recede in September.

Cases dipped for 30 consecutive weeks before starting to rise in mid-February, and experts say the country failed to seize the opportunity to augment healthcare infrastructure and aggressively vaccinate.

“We were so close to success,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking India’s pandemic.