India’s COVID ‘storm’ hits new records as oxygen supply runs out

India’s COVID-19 outbreak has set new records with more than 2,000 deaths in 24 hours – the highest single-day total for the country to date – as hospitals dangerously run out of oxygen in a context of growing demand for beds.

Coronavirus infections have also increased by a record, increasing by 295,041 in the past 24 hours, data from the Ministry of Health showed on Wednesday. The total number of deaths reached 182,553 people.

The overall number of cases in India is now 15.6 million, just behind the United States, which has more than 31 million infections.

But Indian hospitals are scrambling to shore up medical oxygen supplies in the face of growing demand for beds as a second wave of rapidly spreading coronavirus expands the nation’s chronically underfunded medical infrastructure to the point of breaking down, officials and doctors said.

‘No place for you’

Seema Gandotra, sick with coronavirus, gasped in an ambulance for 10 hours as she tried unsuccessfully in six hospitals in the vast Indian capital to find an open bed.

By the time of her admission, it was too late and the 51-year-old woman died a few hours later.

Rajiv Tiwari, whose oxygen levels began to drop after testing positive for the virus, has the opposite problem: He has identified a hospital that could accommodate him, but the 30-year-old resident of Lucknow, State from Uttar Pradesh, could not access it.

“There is no ambulance to take me to the hospital,” he said.

Hospitals are understaffed and overwhelmed. The intensive care units are full. Almost all the fans are in operation and the the dead pile up in crematoriums and cemeteries.

Sanjay Gandhi Hospital, run by the Delhi government, is increasing its beds for COVID-19 patients from 46 to 160. But R Meneka, the hospital’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said that ‘he wasn’t sure if the facility had the capacity to supply oxygen to so many beds.

Another government-run hospital in Burari, an industrial hub on the outskirts of the capital, only had oxygen for two days on Monday and found most of the town’s vendors running out, said Ramesh Verma, who coordinates the COVID-19 response there.

“Every minute we get hundreds of calls for beds,” he said.

A patient with breathing problems is seen inside an ambulance waiting to enter a COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad [Amit Dave/Reuters]

Kamla Devi, a 71-year-old diabetic, was rushed to a hospital in New Delhi when her blood sugar dropped last week. When he got home, his levels dropped again, but this time there were no beds. She died before she could be tested for the virus.

“If you have a corona (virus) or if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. Hospitals have no place for you, ”said her son Dharmendra Kumar.

The government appealed for help on social media, saying large government hospitals only had enough oxygen to last another eight to 24 hours, while some private ones had enough for just four or five hours. .

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who isolated himself on Tuesday after his wife tested positive, tweeted Tuesday evening that some hospitals in the capital “have only a few hours of oxygen left.”

The city’s health minister, Satyendar Jain, urged the federal government to “restore the oxygen supply chain to avoid a major crisis.”

Hospitals in the western state of Maharashtra and its teeming capital Mumbai, the epicenter of the outbreak, were also facing severe shortages, reports said.

“Normally we would transfer some patients to other hospitals… none in the city have back-up oxygen,” NDTV said, citing a state doctor.

Meanwhile, Shahid Malik, who works at a small oxygen supplier in Delhi, said demand for medical oxygen has increased by a factor of 10. His phone has been ringing continuously for two days. On Monday, the store still had oxygen but no cylinders.

He answered every call with the same message: “If you have your own cylinder, come and get the oxygen. Otherwise, we cannot help you. “

Delayed testing, difficult vaccination

Coronavirus testing is also being delayed as labs are unprepared for the surge in demand for testing that has accompanied the current outbreak.

Everyone was “caught with their pants down,” said A Velumani, president and CEO of Thyrocare, one of India’s largest private testing laboratories. He said the current demand was three times that of last year.

COVID-19 vaccine shortage notice outside vaccination center in Mumbai [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

India launched a vaccination campaign in January, but only a tiny fraction of its population has received vaccines and huge momentum is difficult.

Several states have reported shortages, although the federal government has said there are sufficient stocks.

India said last week it would allow the use of all COVID-19 injections that have been approved by the World Health Organization or regulators in the United States, Europe, Britain or in Japan.

On Monday, he announced that he would soon extend vaccinations to all adults in the country, or around 900 million people.

But with vaccines in short supply globally, it is not clear when Indian vaccine makers will have the capacity to meet those goals. Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech said it was increasing to make 700 million doses each year.

‘Like a storm’

In a televised address to the country on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India faces a coronavirus ‘storm’ crushing its health system.

“The demand for oxygen has increased. We work with speed and sensitivity to provide oxygen to all who need it. The center, states and private companies are all working together, ”Modi said.

Modi faces criticism that his administration let its guard down when coronavirus infections fell to several-month low in February and allowed religious festivals and political rallies, some of which he allowed to take place.

“The situation was manageable until a few weeks ago. The second wave of infections came like a storm, ”Modi said in his speech, urging citizens to stay indoors and not panic amid India’s worst health emergency.

New Delhi is under a six-day lockdown to try to stem transmission. The western state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, also plans to impose a tough lockdown this week to try to stop the rise in cases, the cabinet said.

Modi ordered a strict lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people when the coronavirus was detected last year, but his government has always been wary of the huge economic costs of tight restrictions.

He said on Tuesday that a lockdown should only be a “last resort”.

‘India did not learn’

Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has followed India’s pandemic, said India had not learned of surges elsewhere and has not taken anticipatory measures.

When new infections began to drop in September, authorities believed the worst of the pandemic was over.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan even said in March that the country had entered the “endgame”, but it was already behind schedule: average weekly cases in the state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, had tripled the previous month.

Mukherjee was among those urging authorities to take advantage of low cases earlier in the year to speed up vaccinations.

Instead, officials have been reluctant to limit huge gatherings during Hindu festivals and have refused to delay ongoing elections in the state of East West Bengal, where experts fear large unmasked crowds at rallies will fuel up. the spread of the virus.

Today India’s two largest cities have imposed strict lockdowns, the pain of which will fall disproportionately on the poor.

Many have already left major cities, fearing a repeat of last year, when a brutal lockdown forced many migrant workers to march to their home villages or risk starving to death.

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