The world’s worst coronavirus surge has left Indian hospitals struggling to cope with shortages of beds, medicines and medical oxygen.
India’s coronavirus infections rate, growing at the fastest pace in the world, has left families and patients pleading for oxygen outside hospitals, the relatives weeping in the street as their loved ones die while waiting for treatment.
The nation of nearly 1.4 billion people set a global record of new daily infections for a fifth straight day on Monday.
The 350,179 new cases pushed India’s total past 17 million, behind only the United States. Deaths rose by 2,812 in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 195,123, the health ministry said, though the number is believed to be vastly undercounted.
Most hospitals in India are not equipped with independent plants that generate oxygen directly for patients, primarily because they require an uninterrupted power supply, which is a rarity in many states.
As a result, hospitals typically rely on liquid oxygen, which can be stored in cylinders and transported in cryogenic tankers. But amid the surge, supplies in hard-hit places like New Delhi are running critically short.
The oxygen shortage has become so dire that a Sikh house of worship in capital New Delhi began offering free breathing sessions with shared tanks to COVID-19 patients waiting for a hospital bed.
They arrive in their cars, on foot or in three-wheeled taxis, desperate for a mask and tube attached to the precious oxygen tanks outside the “gurdwara”, a Sikh place of worship, which has promised to provide free oxygen to patients until they can be admitted to a hospital.
Teams of volunteers check oxygen levels of newly arrived patients and provide what they need after the gurdwara started the initiative on Thursday. By Friday evening, they had seen more than 700 patients come through, reported The Hindu newspaper.
Dozens of COVID-19 patients have died in hospitals in India’s capital amid suggestions that low oxygen supplies were to blame.
Doctors have taken to social media to beg public authorities to get them resupplied, and the government has mobilised to bring oxygen supplies by train, plane and truck.
The demand for oxygen from hospitals has nearly tripled to 8,000 metric tonnes, the federal government told the Delhi High Court last week. India’s total production was 7,500 metric tonnes of oxygen per day.
Saket Tiku, the president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, said the biggest challenge has been transporting oxygen to where it is urgently needed.