Death toll surges past a grim milestone as the pandemic rages across the vast country of 1.35 billion people.
India has posted a record rise in deaths from COVID-19 over the last 24 hours, pushing its total fatalities past the 250,000 mark.
Deaths from the coronavirus swelled by 4,205, while daily coronavirus cases rose by 348,421, with India’s overall caseload now surging past 23 million, according to health ministry data on Wednesday.
Many experts suspect the real numbers are much higher.
Scores of dead bodies were found floating down the Ganges river in eastern India, with the authorities saying they haven’t yet determined the cause of death.
Health officials working through the night Monday retrieved 71 bodies, officials in Bihar state said.
Images on social media of the bodies floating in the river prompted outrage and speculation that they died from COVID-19.
Authorities performed post mortems on Tuesday but said they could not confirm the cause of death due to the decomposition of the bodies.
More corpses were found floating in the river on Tuesday, washing up in Ghazipur district in neighboring Uttar Pradesh state. Police and villagers were at the site, about 50 km (30 miles) from Monday’s incident.
“We are trying to find out where did these dead bodies come from? How did they get here?” said Mangla Prasad Singh, a local official.
Surinder, a resident of Ghazipur who uses one name, said villagers didn’t have enough wood to cremate their dead on land.
“Due to the shortage of wood, the dead are being buried in the water,” he said. “Bodies from around 12-13 villages have been buried in the water.”
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are experiencing rising COVID-19 cases as infections in India grow faster than anywhere else in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said a variant of COVID-19 first detected in India last year has been found in at least 44 countries.
The UN health body has designated the virus strain as a “variant of concern” based on preliminary research, alongside those that were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
Meanwhile, India’s foreign ministry late on Tuesday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not travel to Britain for the Group of Seven (G7) summit next month because of the coronavirus situation in the country.
“While appreciating the invitation to the Prime Minister by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to attend the G7 Summit as a Special Invitee, given the prevailing COVID situation, it has been decided that the Prime Minister will not attend the G7 Summit in person,” the ministry said in a statement.
Modi has been criticised for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.
US President Joe Biden is expected to join other leaders at a G7 summit chaired by Britain’s Johnson in Cornwall, southwestern England, on June 11-13.