India's hospitals choke under oxygen shortage amid raging pandemic

Health authorities reported a global record of 335,000 new infections on Friday

A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) waits to get admitted outside the casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India, April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

At least 25 coronavirus patients died at an Indian hospital overnight Friday as a grave oxygen shortage choked hospitals and patients across the country amid a catastrophic second wave of Covid-19.

"Twenty-five [of the] sickest patients have died in the last 24 hours. Oxygen will last another two hours,” Sir Ganga Ram Hospital director Ashok Kumar Chaturvedi said, and added that “lives of another 60 such patients are at risk".

Some 700 Covid-19 patients are undergoing treatment at the hospital, which issued urgent appeals to authorities to replenish their depleting oxygen stocks to avoid a disaster.

At least 24 patients died at a western Maharashtra state hospital this week following a leak in the hospital's oxygen gas tank.

India’s Health Ministry said Friday over 335,000 cases were detected in the country, the second straight day of record numbers.

India’s caseload has risen alarmingly this month to 16 million, making it the second worst-affected nation in the world, with about 2.5 million active cases and over 185,000 deaths.

Family members mourn after a man is declared dead outside the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) casualty ward, at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India, April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The country had witnessed a steep decline in cases in February after infections peaked in September, with many believing the pandemic had ebbed in the world's second most populous country before the next wave hit in March.

But more worrying is the shortage of oxygen, life-saving medicines and hospital beds as the creaking healthcare system is overwhelmed by a deluge of sick patients.

At least five private hospitals in the capital have petitioned a regional court to intervene and secure oxygen supplies after the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh blocked supplies to meet local demands.

Five other regional courts were hearing similar petitions over the deteriorating situation of medicines and oxygen supplies that has triggered an “oxygen war” between several states.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced flak for failing to upgrade healthcare centres during the past year and over its apathetic response at the beginning of the second wave.

Mr Modi’s government has called in the Indian Air Force and railways to transport oxygen from across the country to deal with the crises in Delhi and Mumbai.

But for thousands of families, the scramble for beds and oxygen supplies continues across hospitals and cities, including in Delhi, which is in the throes of the brutal wave.

Dozens of Covid-19 patients were being treated in the open at Delhi’s Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital after beds ran out.

Relatives were carrying oxygen canisters on their shoulders and fixing air tubes on the patients lying on stretchers outside the main building as many more jostled to gain admission for sick loved ones.

Delhi is one of the 10 regions in the country that have seen an exponential rise in the cases this month, with over 25,000 cases recorded daily.

On Friday evening, the city of 20 million residents had just 22 intensive care beds available out of the total 4,594 beds.

The situation is worse in smaller cities and towns where health infrastructure has buckled under the load of fresh cases.

In neighbouring Noida, many hospitals were turning away patients as they ran out of space to admit new cases or were struggling to cope with depleting oxygen and medical supplies.

"The situation is awful. We are getting patients every moment. The ICU is full ... there are no beds. We are working morning to evening," a nurse at Jaypee Hospital in Noida told The National.

"We are getting requests from 120 people at least for tests. That has definitely increased manifold. We have 133 beds and all are full,” a hospital staff member said.