The daily toll of coronavirus deaths and infections in India, which is in the throes of a second unleashed wave of the pandemic, broke new world records as the government struggled to deliver oxygen supplies to hospitals overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of new cases daily.
Authorities rushed again on Saturday to deliver medical oxygen to Indian hospitals where COVID-19 patients were suffocating amid limited supplies.
India hit the rate of one reported COVID-19 death every four minutes in New Delhi as the capital’s underfunded health system collapsed.
Queues of COVID-19 patients and their fearful loved ones were forming outside hospitals in major cities in India, the new hotspot of the global pandemic which has now reported nearly one million new cases in three days.
2,624 other deaths, a new daily record, were reported in 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to nearly 190,000 since the start of the pandemic.
An additional 346,786 new cases were also reported, bringing India’s total to 16.5 million, just behind the United States.
Many experts predict that the current wave will not peak for at least three weeks and that the actual number of deaths and cases is higher.
Stung by criticism of its lack of preparedness before the new wave of infections, the government has deployed military planes and trains to oxygen from the most remote corners of the country to New Delhi.
TV news channels showed an oxygen truck arriving at Batra Hospital in New Delhi after posting an SOS saying there was 90 minutes of oxygen left for its 260 patients.
“Please help us get oxygen, there will be a tragedy here,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a conference on Friday.
The city government has said it will start building oxygen buffers to speed up supplies to hospitals when they are within hours of depletion.
“Every hospital is running out [of oxygen]. We’re running out, ”Dr Sudhanshu Bankata, executive director of Batra Hospital, a leading hospital in the capital, told NDTV.
At least 20 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Jaipur Golden Hospital in New Delhi have died overnight because “the oxygen pressure was low,” the Indian Express newspaper reported.
“Our supply was delayed by seven to eight hours on Friday evening and the stock we received last night is only 40 percent of the required supply,” said hospital medical director Dr DK Baluja. .
Delhi crematoriums said they were full and asked grieving families to wait.
A charity has set up an overflow crematorium in a parking lot, with makeshift funeral pyres built to cope with growing deaths.
📍# COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE India Tracker
(Status April 24, 2021, 8:00 a.m.)
➡️ Confirmed cases: 1,66,10,481
➡️Fetched: 126.96.36.1997 (83.49%) 👍
➡️ Active cases: 25,52,940 (15.37%)
➡️ Death: 1.89,544 (1.14%)#IndiaFightsCorona# Unite2FightCorona#Be careful @MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/5TUMFE4qGv
– #IndiaFightsCorona (@COVIDNewsByMIB) April 24, 2021
Seeking help abroad
India has also tried to acquire oxygen from abroad.
Elizabeth Puranam of Al Jazeera, reporting from the capital, said that so far, many countries around the world have expressed support for India’s fight against the recent COVID-19 crisis and the search for means of helping the country.
“The scale of the crisis in India has perhaps not been seen anywhere else since the start of the pandemic,” she said.
“India has asked its Ministry of External Affairs, along with all embassies abroad, to procure and import 50,000 metric tons of oxygen to save people’s lives. Its Ministry of Defense also routes 23 mobile oxygen production plants from Germany.
“The American Chamber of Commerce has asked the Biden administration to release millions of doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, which is in stock in the United States, and ship them to India as well as countries like Brazil hit hard by the pandemic.
The French gas giant Air Liquide SA also hijacked supply of oxygen for industrial customers in India to hospitals.
The government has urged industry to increase production of oxygen and other vital drugs in short supply.
The crisis is also being felt in other parts of the country, with several hospitals having issued public notices indicating that they did not have medical oxygen.
Local media reported new cases of people dying in the cities of Jaipur and Amritsar.
An “oxygen express” carrying 30,000 liters for hospitals arrived in Lucknow at dawn on Saturday, where armed guards waited to escort trucks to hospitals.
Lucknow has been one of the worst-hit towns, with hospitals and crematoriums inundated with patients and bodies, and officials said liquid oxygen would only be enough for half a day’s needs.
Huge jump in cases
Health experts said India had become complacent in the winter, as new cases were running at around 10,000 a day and the pandemic appeared to be under control, lifting restrictions that allowed large gatherings to resume.
Others said it could also be a more dangerous variant of the virus crossing the world’s second most populous country where people live nearby, often six per room.
“While complacency in masking and physical distancing may have played a role, it seems increasingly likely that this second wave was fueled by a much more virulent strain,” wrote Vikram Patel, professor of health World at Harvard Medical School on the Indian Express.
WHO Emergency Director Mike Ryan said reducing transmission in India would be a “very difficult task,” but the government was working to limit mixing between people, which he said was essential.