How India’s COVID crisis leaves a trail of death and misery

India is facing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, buckling the country’s weak healthcare system and overwhelming the nation’s ability to cremate and bury its dead.

The world’s second-most populous nation recorded 379,257 new cases Thursday, a daily record for any country since the coronavirus first emerged more than a year ago. It also reported 3,645 deaths, the most in a single day in India. The actual numbers of infections and deaths are believed to be significantly higher.

The outbreak is being blamed on a so-called double mutant variant of the coronavirus that’s believed to be highly infectious. A vaccine drive has sputtered due to limited doses.

A health worker takes a temperature while screening people for COVID-19 symptoms in Dharavi, a slum in in Mumbai, India, in July 2020.

(Rafiq Maqbool / Associated Press)

India’s leaders had earlier boasted of defeating the virus after the country of 1.4 billion reported only a few thousand cases in January. That led to relaxed social restrictions and mass gatherings at cricket matches, election rallies and religious festivals that experts say became superspreader events.

Overcrowded health facilities are now turning away sickened patients, many of whom are dying outside hospital gates. People are scrambling to buy oxygen tanks, one of the most valuable commodities in India as a result of the outbreak.

The number of COVID-19 victims has so overwhelmed the country that furnaces in some crematories have begun to melt. Family members have had to cremate their loved ones in parking lots and along roadsides. Firewood is rationed and sparse in some places because of the abundance of funeral pyres.

A worker sprays disinfectant.

Members of disaster response force spray disinfectant in Hyderabad, India, on April 19.

(Mahesh Kumar A / Associated Press)

A body sits on a gurney.

A body of a COVID 19 victim waits to be cremated in New Delhi on April 19.

(Manish Swarup / Associated Press)

Men carry an oxygen cylinder.

Men carry an oxygen cylinder for a patient at a hospital in Srinagar, in the semiautonomous Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, on April 25.

(Mukhtar Khan / Associated Press)

A woman receives oxygen inside a car.

A COVID-19 patient receives oxygen provided by a Sikh house of worship in New Delhi on April 24.

(Altaf Qadri / Associated Press)

People stand among rows of cots.

This auditorium in Mumbai, India, seen on April 29, has been converted into a recovery center for COVID-19 patients.

(Punit Paranjpe / AFP/Getty Images)

Kashmiri women receive vaccines.

Women receive COVID-19 vaccinations at a health center in Srinagar on April 28.

(Dar Yasin / Associated Press)

A health worker takes a nasal swab

A health worker takes a nasal swab for a coronavirus test in New Delhi in July 2020.

(Manish Swarup / Associated Press)

A health worker takes a temperature.

A health worker takes a temperature while screening for COVID-19 symptoms in Mumbai in September 2020.

(Rafiq Maqbool / Associated Press)

A man sleeps outdoors.

A man sleeps next to a coronavirus awareness sign in Hyderabad on April 29.

(Mahesh Kumar A / Associated Press)

Migrant laborers travel in a bus.

Migrant laborers ride to their home villages after a six-day lockdown in New Delhi on April 20.

(Manish Swarup / Associated Press)

A health worker takes a nasal swab

A health worker takes a nasal swab for a coronavirus test at a government hospital in Hyderabad on April 24.

(Mahesh Kumar A / Associated Press)

A health worker takes a mouth swab

A health worker takes a mouth swab for a coronavirus test in Hyderabad on April 29.

(Mahesh Kumar A / Associated Press)

Boys look out a train window.

Boys look out a train window at a station in Gauhati on April 19.

(Anupam Nath / Associated Press)

Health workers in India.

Health workers treat patients in a banquet hall converted into a COVID-19 care center in New Delhi on April 29.

(Tauseef Mustafa / AFP/Getty Images)

A man sits beside wrapped bodies

A man waits for the cremation of a relative who died of COVID-19 in New Delhi.

(Associated Press)

Funeral pyres burn.

Funeral pyres burn at a makeshift crematorium in New Delhi on April 24.

(Altaf Qadri / Associated Press)

A  man digs a grave.

A man digs a grave in Gauhati on April 25.

(Anupam Nath / Associated Press)

Health workers and relatives carry a body.

Health workers and relatives carry the body of a COVID-19 victim for cremation in Jammu on April 28.

(Channi Anand / Associated Press)

A burial in Gauhati, India.

A COVID-19 victim is buried in Gauhati on April 25.

(Anupam Nath / Associated Press)

Three men sit beside an ambulance.

Workers who retrieve bodies for cremation sit on a rear step of an ambulance in New Delhi on April 24.

(Altaf Qadri / Associated Press)