Overwhelmed hospitals in India begged for oxygen supplies as the country's coronavirus infections soared again overnight in a "tsunami" of disease, setting a new world record for cases for the third consecutive day.
Max Healthcare, which runs a network of hospitals in north India, tweeted that it had less than two hours of oxygen left while Fortis Healthcare, another big chain, said it was suspending new admissions in Delhi.
"We are running on backup, waiting for supplies since morning," Fortis said.
India is in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic, hitting a rate of one Covid-19 death in just under every four minutes in Delhi as the capital's underfunded health system buckles.
The government has deployed military planes and trains to get oxygen to Delhi from the far corners of the country and overseas including Singapore.
The number of cases across the country of around 1.3 billion rose overnight by 346,786, the Health Ministry said, for a total of 16.6 million cases, including 189,544 deaths.
Covid-19 deaths rose by 2,624 over the past 24 hours, the highest daily rate for the country so far.
Crematoriums across Delhi said they were full up and asked grieving families to wait.
Hospitals in Delhi have gone to the city's high court this week seeking it to order the state and federal governments to make emergency arrangements for medical supplies, mainly oxygen.
Television showed families tending to the sick in hospital corridors and streets as they waited for medical attention.
One man who was grieving for his brother at Delhi's Jaipur Golden hospital said he had seen families running around with oxygen cylinders trying to get them refilled.
India surpassed the US record of 297,430 single-day infections anywhere in the world on Thursday, making it the global epicentre of a pandemic that is waning in many other countries.
The federal government had declared it had beaten back thecoronavirus in February.
Health experts said India became complacent in the winter, when new cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control. Authorities lifted restrictions, allowing for the resumption of big gatherings.
Others said that it could also be a more dangerous variant of the virus coursing through India. It is the world's second most populous country and people live in close proximity, often six to a room.
"While complacency in adhering to masks and physical distancing might have played a role, it seems increasingly likely that this second wave has been fuelled by a much more virulent strain," wrote Vikram Patel, Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, in the Indian Express.
Experts say the only way India can turn the tide is to ramp up vaccinations and impose strict lockdowns in the so-called red zones of high infection. It has opened up the immunisation programme to all adults but faces a shortage.
India is currently using the AstraZeneca shot and homegrown Covaxin. It has also approved Russia's Sputnik V and has urged Pfizer Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to provide it with vaccines.
Germany restricts travel from 'high-risk' India
Germany will shut out all travellers arriving from India apart from its own citizens, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
"We're very worried about the new mutation of the virus discovered in India. So as not to endanger our vaccination programme, India travel has to be significantly limited," Mr Spahn told the Funke newspaper group.
From Monday, only German citizens will be allowed to enter the country when arriving from India, he added.
As Mr Spahn plans to designate India a "virus variant zone", travellers will have to be tested before departure for Germany and immediately enter a 14-day quarantine on arrival.
Berlin had already dubbed India a "zone with particularly high risk of infection" with effect from tomorrow
Germany is the latest of several countries to restrict travel from India over the new variant, following Canada, Britain and Kuwait.