As many as six hospitals in the Indian capital, Delhi, had completely exhausted their oxygen supplies by Thursday evening, as another unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases overwhelmed health systems in major cities.
Hospital staff posted emergency alerts on social media and signs outside their wards warning that they desperately needed more oxygen to treat patients. Fortis Healthcare, a major provider, posted an SOS appeal on Twitter on Thursday night, writing: “Fortis Hospital in #Haryana has only 45 minutes of oxygen left” and urging the authorities to allow an oxygen tanker from Bhiwadi, south of the capital, to reach its hospital.
As infections have pushed hospitals to breaking point, some areas have been accused of blocking tankers of oxygen from reaching neighbouring states.
Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia wrote to the health minister to warn that some hospitals had just a few hours of oxygen left, and that supply at six private hospitals had run out entirely. He accused police and senior officials in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana of blocking tankers carrying oxygen and delaying supplies.
The virus has spread with unprecedented speed in India, with health experts blaming lax measures, political failings and a more infectious variant. On Friday morning, India reported another record-breaking daily case load of 332,348 in the previous 24 hours. It followed news on Thursday that India had registered the highest number of infections in a single day in any country since the start of the pandemic.
On Friday morning, nearly 2,250 new deaths were also announced.
Television and social media footage showed desperate scenes in and around hospitals, which have been forced to turn sick patients away due to shortages of beds, medicines and oxygen.
A member of the Delhi’s legislative assembly issued an emotional appeal from his hospital bed on Thursday. Saurabh Bharadwaj from the Aam Aadmi party spoke in a breathless voice through his oxygen mask calling for help from the government: “The hospital in which I am admitted has only three hours of oxygen left. When I remove this mask, it feels like a non-swimmer has been pushed into a pool and is gasping for breath,” Bharadwaj said.
“We are supposed to give life. If we cannot give even oxygen, our patients will die,” Sunil Kumar Saggar, CEO of Shanti Mukand Hospital in told local media, breaking down as he spoke.
A Covid centre equipped with 500 oxygen beds is due to be opened in the capital to cope with the demand.
The country is embarking on the world’s biggest vaccination drive, and, as of 7am on Thursday, a total of 132,330,644 vaccine doses had been administered, including 2, 200,000 doses administered in the 24 hours prior.
The government plans to make vaccines available to all adults aged over 18 from 1 May, but several states are experiencing shortages and the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures the AstraZeneca vaccine, has warned that it will not be able to meet its target to produce 100m monthly doses by late May.