Oxygen shortage threatens thousands in India as pandemic cases surge

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment with a coronavirus patient outside the casualty ward at a New Delhi hospital

India virus patients suffocate from low oxygen amid surge

For the fourth straight day, India on Sunday set a global daily record of new coronavirus infections, spurred by an insidious new variant that emerged here.

The newspaper said V.K. Paul, a COVID-19 task force leader, made the presentation during a meeting with Modi and state chief ministers and said the health infrastructure in heavily populated states is not adequate to cope.

The country also reported its highest daily death toll for the ninth consecutive day, adding 2,767 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

The United States said it was deeply concerned by the massive surge in coronavirus cases in India and would rapidly send aid. "It is as if we are in the middle of a war".

Currently, there are 25,52,940 active cases of COVID-19 in the country.

A Covid-19 patient receives oxygen inside a vehicle provided by a Sikh gurdwara in New Delhi.

"There is desperation among people all around".

The wave of cases has left hospitals running out of critical oxygen supplies and the government has deployed military planes and trains to get oxygen to New Delhi not only from other parts of the country but also overseas. Hospitals and patients alike are struggling to procure scarce medical equipment that is being sold at an exponential mark-up.

Doctors at New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences have found that one patient is now infecting up to nine in 10 contacts, compared with up to four previous year.

Oxygen facilities are reportedly spread across seven states.

Delhi does not have any oxygen generation plants and gets bulk supplies from other states. But health experts said India had an entire year to prepare for the inevitable - and failed to do so.

A man reacts next to the body of his father who died from COVID-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi India
A man reacts next to the body of his father who died from COVID-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi India

Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, said the biggest challenge has been transporting oxygen to where it's urgently needed.

She called the government's premature declarations of victory over the pandemic a "false narrative", which encouraged people to relax health measures when they should have continued strict adherence to physical distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large crowds.

Modi is facing mounting criticism for allowing Hindu festivals and attending mammoth election rallies that experts suspect accelerated the spread of infections.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration's top medical adviser on the pandemic, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with its counterpart agency in India to provide technical support and assistance.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday expressed his solidarity with the people of India amid the record rise in COVID-19 infections in the country. The targeted posts include tweets from opposition ministers critical of Modi, journalists and ordinary Indians.

A Twitter spokesman said it has powers to "withhold access to the content in India only" if the company determines the content to be "illegal in a particular jurisdiction". The interested people can contact the company at ceo@delhivery.com.

India's Information Technology ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

World Health Organization emergencies director Mike Ryan said reducing transmission in India would be a "very hard task" but the government was working on limiting mixing between people, which he said was essential.

"To the people of India I want to express my sympathy on the bad suffering that Covid-19 has again brought over your communities", Merkel said in a message shared on Twitter by her spokesman Steffen Seibert.

Elsewhere, people were arranging stretchers and oxygen cylinders outside hospitals as they desperately pleaded for authorities to take patients in, Reuters photographers said.

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