The Indian government has set up special express trains loaded with oxygen tankers as major hospitals in New Delhi beg for more supplies to save Covid-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.
The country’s underfunded health system is struggling amid the world’s worst coronavirus surge, reaching a new global record in daily infections for a second straight day with 332,730 cases.
Officials have confirmed 16 million cases so far in India, second only to the United States in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
India has recorded 2,263 deaths in the past 24 hours, for a total of 186,920.
The situation is worsening by the day with hospitals taking to social media to plead with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop fresh admissions of patients.
A major private hospital chain in the capital, Max Hospital, tweeted that one of its facilities had one hour’s oxygen supply left in its system and was waiting for replenishment since the early morning.
Two days earlier, the facility had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court that it was running out of oxygen, endangering the lives of 400 patients, of which 262 were being treated for Covid-19.
The government has started running Oxygen Express trains bearing tankers to meet the shortfall at hospitals, rail minister Piyush Goyal said.
Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, said: “We have surplus oxygen at plants which are far off from places where it is needed right now. Trucking oxygen is a challenge from these plants.
“We have ramped up the production as oxygen consumption is rising through the roof. But we have limitations and the biggest challenge right now is transporting it to where its urgently needed.”
The supreme court told Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that it wanted a “national plan” on the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.
The New Delhi government issued a list of a dozen government and private hospitals facing an acute shortage of oxygen supplies.
At another hospital in the capital, questions were raised about whether low oxygen supplies had caused deaths.
The Press Trust of India reported 25 Covid-19 patients died at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the past 24 hours and the lives of another 60 were at risk amid a serious oxygen supply crisis.
The news agency quoted unnamed officials as saying “low pressure oxygen” could be the likely cause for their deaths.
Ajoy Sehgal, a hospital spokesperson, would not comment on whether the 25 patients died from a lack of oxygen.
He said an oxygen tanker had just entered the hospital complex and hoped it would temporarily relieve the fast depleting supply.
The New Delhi Television channel later cited the hospital chairman as saying the deaths cannot be ascribed to a lack of oxygen.