NEW DELHI, India (AP) — From high up in the Himalayan valley of Kashmir to the seemingly endless sprawl of beaches in Kanyakumari, the virus despair has stretched across the large swathes of India, overwhelming its hospitals and burial grounds.
On Friday, the reported cases approached a million, still soaring at an alarming pace, as the Indian government looks to confront an inevitable surge that could test the country’s feeble health care system.
But because testing has been limited, official statistics cannot capture the full picture. Yet, the virus has already brought immense grief to Indians.
Nearly 25,000 people have died so far. The already ailing economy has been severely hit. Millions of migrants have been forced to return to the countryside due to job losses and hunger during lockdown, triggering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The virus, like elsewhere in the world, has also upended religious ceremonies for the dead, which are largely devoid of rituals that comfort mourners. Freshly dug graves have been filling up quickly for weeks and crematoriums are working extra hours.
Across the country, hospitals are close to capacity.
The virus, however, also brought out the best in Indians. Volunteers have been at the forefront of delivering food and medicine to the needy. Nonprofit groups have pitched in with masks, sanitizers and hazmat suits for medical workers.
Over the past few months, Associated Press photographers across the country have captured the agony experienced by regular Indians. They spent days traversing the narrow alleys of teeming slums, deserted highways, crowded hospitals and sometimes inside the homes of India’s poor who bear the brunt of the crisis.
They documented health care workers checking on virus victims, shared grief with families burying or cremating loved ones, and chronicled the once vibrant and colorful life brought to a sudden grinding halt by the pandemic.
The stay-at-home orders are back in many cities, with authorities allowing only essential food supplies and health services. The economy is far from recovering.