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The first emergency medical supplies trickled into Covid-stricken India on Tuesday as part of efforts to staunch a catastrophic wave in the latest pandemic hotspot, with the United States also pledging to export millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

India's infection and death rates are growing exponentially, overwhelming hospitals, in contrast to some wealthier Western nations that are starting to ease restrictions.

The virus has now killed over 3.1 million people worldwide, with India driving the latest surge in global case numbers, recording more than 2,800 deaths on Monday.

Crates of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the UK were unloaded at a Delhi airport early Tuesday, the first shipment to arrive in the country to deal with the crisis. 

"International cooperation at work," Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted alongside photos of the crates.

Elsewhere in the capital, AFP images showed Covid victims burning on funeral pyres set up in rows, the earth between them scorched by embers and littered with ash. 

"So many people are dying because they are unable to get the most basic services," Vinod Kumar told AFP outside a Delhi hospital as he tried to buy medication for a sick family member.

"This government has failed us so much."

'We will be there for them'

US President Joe Biden promised Monday the United States would send up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine abroad.

Read more Indian hospitals swamped by coronavirus as countries promise aid

The offer came with Washington under pressure to lift restrictions on exporting vaccine and vaccine supplies.   

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the recipient countries had not yet been decided and that the administration was still formulating its distribution plan.

But India appeared to be a leading contender after Biden spoke with his counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whose Hindu-nationalist government is under fire for allowing mass gatherings such as religious festivals and political rallies in recent weeks.

"India was there for us, and we will be there for them," Biden tweeted after the call with Modi.

Others have also rushed to pledge help.

Germany and Canada have promised support, while France said Monday it will send eight oxygen production units as well as oxygen containers and respirators to India.

Travel curbs

India has called on its armed forces to help tackle the devastating crisis.

Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said late on Monday that oxygen would be released from armed forces reserves and retired medical personnel would join health facilities that are struggling under the strain of cases.

The World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described the situation in India as "beyond heartbreaking".

"WHO is doing everything we can, providing critical equipment and supplies," Tedros said.

Several countries, including Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh and Britain, have taken steps to curb travel from India to prevent more virulent virus variants from entering their borders.

On Tuesday, Australia became the latest country to halt passenger flights from India, until May 15.

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