Some Delhi hospitals have no oxygen, says minister

Grim surge in world’s second-most populous country sends more and more sick people in search of medical oxygen and hospital beds.

A view inside the COVID-19 emergency ward, at ESIC (Indira Gandhi) Hospital Jhilmil in New Delhi, India [Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

India has reported a global record of more than 314,000 new infections on Thursday as a brutal second wave of coronavirus cases sends more and more sick people into a fragile healthcare system critically short of hospital beds and medical oxygen.

The infections added in the past 24 hours, mostly attributed to a so-called double mutant variant, raise India’s total past 15.9 million cases since the pandemic began.

Deaths also rose by a record 2,104 in the past 24 hours, raising India’s overall death toll to 184,657, the health ministry said.

This live blog is now closed. Read Thursday’s India updates:

Prime Minister Modi cancels visit to Bengal

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cancelled his election campaign in West Bengal state over the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country.

“Tomorrow, will be chairing high-level meetings to review the prevailing COVID-19 situation,” Modi said on Twitter.

“Due to that, I would not be going to West Bengal,” he added.

India’s COVID emergency in pictures

Relatives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) attend the funeral of a man who died of COVID-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi, India [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]


Health workers in PPE stand around a patient waiting to get transferred to an intensive care unit (ICU) in Mumbai [Punit Paranjpe/AFP]


Family members of a COVID-19 patient, who died in a government hospital in Kolkata, break down [Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty Images]


Workers unloading oxygen cylinders at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village COVID-19 Care Centre in New Delhi, India [Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

See more photos here.

China willing to help India in COVID-19 fight

China is willing to help India as it fights a surge in coronavirus cases, said the Chinese foreign ministry.

China is aware that the epidemic in India has been severe recently, and there is a temporary shortage of necessary materials for epidemic prevention, said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the foreign ministry.

“China is willing to provide the necessary support and help,” Wang said, without giving details of what such assistance might consist of.

“The novel coronavirus is a common enemy of all mankind, and the global community needs to unite as one to fight against epidemics.”

Singapore to block arrivals from India

Singapore said it will not allow entry to long-term visa holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to India.

The health ministry said it was investigating COVID-19 cases in a migrant workers’ dormitory for the possibility of reinfection and is quarantining more than 1,100 of the facility’s residents. So far, 17 recovered workers were found to be infected at the dormitory.

The government said travel restrictions with India will help curb potential cases in the dormitories because many of the labourers arrive from the South Asian nation.

India to get Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine only by end-May

India will start receiving Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine by the end of May, its local distributor Dr Reddy’s Laboratories told Reuters, a later than expected schedule that could slow the country’s immunisation drive.

“We are targeting to have the first batches imported by [fiscal] Q1, and are trying our best to have them by end-May,” Dr Reddy’s spokesman told Reuters.

“Sputnik is going to be made in India in a few months. We expect the India-made vaccine to start being available from the second quarter of the fiscal [year].”

India’s ambassador to Moscow said last week deliveries of Sputnik V to the country were expected to begin this month, the TASS news agency reported.

No oxygen in some of Delhi’s hospitals: Minister

Some hospitals in the Indian capital of New Delhi have run out of oxygen, putting lives at risk, said the city’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, as the city was in the grip of surging coronavirus infections.

“After some time, saving lives would be difficult,” Sisodia said in a televised address.

India’s ‘black market’ for drugs, oxygen

Dire medicine and oxygen shortages as India battles a ferocious new COVID-19 wave mean boom times for profit gougers.

As Poonam Sinha fought for her life, her distraught son found himself fending off black marketers for coronavirus drugs after the Indian hospital treating her ran out of supplies.

In the eastern city of Patna, Pranay Punj ran from one pharmacy to another in a frantic search for the antiviral medication remdesivir for his seriously ill mum.

He finally located a pharmacist who said the drug could only be found on the black market, and offered to source it for an eye-popping 100,000 rupees ($1,340), more than 30 times its usual price and three times the average monthly salary for an Indian white-collar worker.

An Indian boy carries an empty oxygen cylinder for filling at oxygen filling centre in Bengaluru, India, [Jagadeesh Nv/EPA]

Punj instead got the medicine from a distant relative whose wife had just died from the virus.

Despite India’s status as the “pharmacy of the world”, the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir and favipiravir.

In the northern city of Lucknow, Ahmed Abbas was charged 45,000 rupees for a 46-litre oxygen cylinder, nine times its normal price.

“They asked me to pay in advance and pick it [up] from them the next day,” the 34-year-old told AFP news agency.

Medical workers in PPE with patients outside the COVID-19 ward at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital in New Delhi, India [Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

#COVIDSOS: Twitter becomes a platform of hope

After spending hours fruitlessly calling government helplines in search of a hospital bed for a critically ill COVID-19 patient, Indian lawyer Jeevika Shiv posted an SOS request on Twitter.

“Serious #covid19 patient in #Delhi with oxygen level 62 needs immediate hospital bed,” Shiv, part of a 350-member COVID-19 volunteer Medical Support Group, said on Twitter late last week.

Help came quickly. The patient found a bed and was soon showing signs of recovery.

Read more here.

‘Complacency and mixing and mass gatherings’

Some experts say new, more infectious virus variants, in particular a “double mutant” variant that originated in India, are largely responsible for the spike in cases but many also blame the politicians.

“The second wave is a consequence of complacency and mixing and mass gatherings. You don’t need a variant to explain the second wave,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi.

The body of a person who died of COVID-19 being taken for cremation at Sector 94 in Noida, India [Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ordered an extensive lockdown last year, but has been wary of the economic costs of more tough restrictions.

In recent weeks, the government has come in for criticism for holding packed political rallies for local elections and allowing a Hindu festival which millions attended.

This week, Modi urged state governments to use lockdowns as a last resort and asked people to stay indoors.

Home minister continues to hold poll rallies

As India sees record COVID-19 cases and deaths, Home Minister Amit Shah continues to campaign in the eastern state of West Bengal where state elections are being held.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also still urged voters in the state “to exercise their franchise” as parts of the state voted.

This is despite West Bengal also reeling from the health crisis, with state capital Kolkata “facing an acute shortage of hospital beds”, said Kunal Sarkar, senior vice chairman of Medica Superspeciality Hospital.

“Beds with oxygen supply are filling fast. Reports are pouring in that at least 100 people are waiting at every hospital in the city,” Sarkar told AFP.

India’s top court to hear oxygen supplies plea

India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has warned the country’s Supreme Court of the urgent need for medical oxygen supplies.

The top court said it will take “suo motu cognisance” and that it will hear the matter on Friday.

Mehta’s plea came as the Supreme Court demanded a “national plan” on oxygen supply, essential medicines and the country’s vaccination methodology, India’s NDTV network reported.

The case was brought forward by the apex court after six high courts across India received petitions over shortages of oxygens, beds and drugs, the network said.

Meanwhile, the central government said the Delhi administration was trying to “sensationalise” the shortage of oxygen in the capital, according to Indian media reports.

Pfizer in vaccine supply talks with India

Pfizer is in discussions with India and committed to make its COVID-19 vaccine available for deployment in the country, the US drugmaker said on Thursday.

The company said it had offered India a not-for-profit price for its vaccine for the government’s immunisation programme.

Congress party attacks Modi over vaccination policy

India’s opposition Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi has attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the government’s vaccination policy.

Gandhi accused the government of making it costly for people aged between 18 and 45 to secure a shot due to a differential pricing mechanism.

“This is a complete abandonment of the government’s responsibility towards our youth,” read a letter sent by Gandhi to the prime minister.

“How can the same vaccine manufactured by the same company have three different prices? There is no rationale or justification that allows such arbitrary distinction,” she added.

Rahul Gandhi, Sonia’s son, also criticised the government, saying people “need solution, not hollow speeches” in a tweet posted in Hindi language.

Translation: I am quarantined at home and I continue to see tragic stories being reported from across the country. India has not just been hit by the coronavirus crisis but has been battered by the anti-people policies of the government. The country needs solutions, not festivals or hollow speeches.

For more, read here.

‘Beg, borrow or steal, it’s a national emergency’

The Delhi High Court ordered the government to divert oxygen from industrial use to hospitals to save people’s lives.

“You can’t have people die because there is no oxygen. Beg, borrow or steal, it is a national emergency,” the judges said responding to a petition by a New Delhi hospital seeking its intervention.

The government is rushing oxygen tankers to replenish supplies to hospitals.

India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday that “demand and supply is being monitored round the clock”.

He said in a tweet that to address the exponential spike in demand, the government has increased the quota of oxygen for the worst-hit seven states.

Lockdowns and strict curbs have brought pain, fear and agony to many lives in New Delhi and other cities.

Shortage of hospital beds

In scenes familiar across the country, ambulances are seen rushing from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed. Grieving relatives are lining up outside crematoriums where the arrival of COVID-19 patients’ bodies has jumped several times.

“I get numerous calls every day from patients desperate for a bed. The demand is far too much than the supply,” said Dr Sanjay Gururaj, a doctor at Bengaluru-based Shanti Hospital and Research Center.

“I try to find beds for patients every day, and it’s been incredibly frustrating to not be able to help them. In the last week, three patients of mine have died at home because they were unable to get beds. As a doctor, it’s an awful feeling,” Gururaj said.

Selling jewellery to buy oxygen

Yogesh Dixit, a resident of northern Uttar Pradesh state, said earlier this week that he had to buy two oxygen cylinders at 12,000 rupees ($160) each, more than twice the normal cost, for his ailing father because the state-run hospital in Lucknow had run out of supplies.

He bought two “because the doctors can ask for another oxygen cylinder at any time”, he said, adding that he had to sell his wife’s jewellery to meet the cost.

The health ministry said of the country’s total production of 7,500 metric tonnes of oxygen per day, 6,600 metric tonnes were being allocated for medical use.

‘Big battle lies ahead’: India being overrun by huge COVID surge

Bodies cremated on sidewalks

The main cremation ground on Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, received nearly 200 bodies on Sunday.

Shekhar Chakraborty, 68, described the scene. “The bodies were everywhere, they were being cremated on sidewalks meant for walking. I have never such a flow of dead bodies in my life,” he said.

In Kanpur, another city in Uttar Pradesh, 35 new temporary platforms have been set up on the Bithoor-Sidhnath Ghat stretch along the Ganges River to cremate bodies.

It also said 75 railway coaches in the Indian capital have been turned into hospitals providing an additional 1,200 beds for COVID-19 patients.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies