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"They will die."
That was the stark reality an emotional Dr Gautam Singh delivered to social media on Sunday as his overloaded New Delhi hospital struggled to keep Covid-19 patients alive with oxygen supplies rapidly running out.
His heartbreaking plea for help encapsulated the fear and tragedy India is experiencing as its daunting surge in infections continues to grow.
"We have young patients who will die in a matter of two hours, I request you to please send oxygen to us," he said as he held back tears in a video shared to Twitter.
"We need oxygen for our patients... they will die... we can save them."
Shri Ram Singh Hospital & Heart Institute, East Delhi
We have 36 patients on oxygen (16 in ICU) and oxygen supply only till 9:00 pm. Need oxygen urgently. 1 cylinder lasts 45 mins to 1 hour. @ArvindKejriwal @SatyendarJain pic.twitter.com/xPhrxwNrfP
— Sneha Mordani (@snehamordani) April 25, 2021
His message was shared by India Today editor Sneha Mordani, who is among a wave of Indian media identities sharing similar pleas for oxygen from across the nation on social media.
Despite recording close to 100,000 daily cases during its first wave, India's ability to curtail the spread of the virus last year was seen as a success.
In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi even declared victory over the virus.
Yet just six months on from its first peak, the virus is now racing through its population of nearly 1.4 billion and systems are beginning to collapse.
India's world-record new cases set to get worse
The country recorded a further 2812 deaths overnight, while its daily infections surpassed 350,000 just days ago and continues to rise to record levels.
Experts fear these statistics are vastly underreported.
In addition to oxygen running out, intensive care units are operating at full capacity and nearly all ventilators are in use.
As the death toll mounts, the night skies in some Indian cities glow from the funeral pyres, as crematories are overwhelmed and bodies are burned in the open air.
"If you've never been to a cremation, the smell of death never leaves you," Vipin Narang, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the situation was "beyond heartbreaking".
In a meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said oxygen would be sent to hospitals from armed forces reserves and retired medical military personnel would join Covid-19 health facilities.
The deepening crisis stands in contrast to the improving picture in wealthier nations like the US, Britain and Israel, which have vaccinated relatively large shares of their population and have seen deaths and infections plummet since winter.
India has four times the population of the US, but on Monday had 11 times as many new infections.
A raft of Western nations including the US, Britain and Germany have all vowed to send aid to India, yet many believe it is too late.
Dr Singh received 20 oxygen cylinders on Monday, only enough to enable the hospital to limp through the day until the ventilators started sending out their warning beeps again.
“I feel helpless because my patients are surviving hour to hour,” Dr Singh said in a telephone interview.
“I will beg again and hope someone sends oxygen that will keep my patients alive for just another day.”
Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University, said the situation would continue to get worse for weeks and even months.
Ashoka University's director of biosciences Shahid Jameel told The Sunday Times he believed daily cases would soon surpass half a million a day.
With AP and Reuters
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