'We're helpless': Dire fears for country ‘running out of oxygen’

As India's coronavirus situation threatens to spiral out of control, overrun hospitals are scrambling to come up with something we usually take for granted: oxygen.

The country of 1.3 billion people added a record-high of 261,500 new cases on Sunday (local time), with one in six people who underwent a test returning a positive coronavirus result, authorities said.

In India’s capital New Delhi the situation appears twice as dire as it recorded 25,500 cases in a 24-hour period, with about one in three people returning a positive result.

Less than 100 critical care beds were available in the city of more than 20 million people, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, as social media was flooded with people complaining about lack of beds, oxygen and drugs.

Workers transport oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 patients on a stretcher in India.
Workers transport oxygen cylinders for Covid-19 patients on a stretcher in Patna, India on April 17. Source: Getty Images

In a statement, the city government said it had informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal administration about “the dire need of beds and oxygen”.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted late Sunday that there was an "acute shortage of oxygen", adding in capital letters that "oxygen has become an emergency" in the megapolis.

"The cases are rising very fast... only 100 beds left," he said earlier in a video statement.

In recent weeks, the number of confirmed Covid cases in the country has rocketed past the previous peak.

During the first wave of the pandemic last year, small manufacturers that produced industrial oxygen were allowed to produce medical oxygen, The Indian Express reported.

The government is now trying to leverage all it can to boost vital medical supplies as it expands the number of makeshift hospital beds available.

A health worker adjusts an oxygen cylinder at a private hospital in Allahabad, India.
Amid shortages, a health worker adjusts an oxygen cylinder that is being used for Covid-19 patients at a private hospital in Allahabad, India. Source: Getty

India scrambles to shore up oxygen supplies

Special trains – dubbed the Oxygen Express – have been set up to transport oxygen tankers to needy areas, while the government said oxygen use for industrial purposes would be limited.

"To immediately cater to the rapidly increasing demand of medical oxygen due to surge in Covid-19 cases, supply of oxygen for industrial purposes has been prohibited except for 9 selected industries," Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said

Oxygen has applications in the iron, steel, glass, plastics and textiles industry, among others.

Indian cases have skyrocketed in April. Source: Reuters
Indian cases have skyrocketed in April. Source: Reuters

India's Sunday tally of new cases took the total number of cases to nearly 14.8 million, second only to the United States, which has reported more than 31 million infections.

The country’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by a record 1,501 to reach a total of 177,150.

As cases rise across India, criticism is mounting over how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has handled the health crisis, as religious festivals and election rallies attended by thousands continue.

with AFP, Reuters

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