WHO warns of oxygen shortage as cases rise by a million a week

The sudden increase in cases has led to scarcity of oxygen concentrators

Director General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of Covid-19, in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 28. Reuters
Director General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of Covid-19, in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 28. Reuters

The world faces a shortage of oxygen concentrators as the number of worldwide cases of coronavirus infection nears the 10 million mark, the World Health Organisation head has said.

“Many countries are now experiencing difficulties obtaining oxygen concentrators,” WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus told a news conference. “Demand is currently outstripping supply.”

The coronavirus has infected 9.3 million people and killed more than 480,000.

Cases are now rising by about 1 million a week, pushing oxygen demand to 88,000 large cylinders a day, or 620,000 cubic metres of oxygen, Mr Tedros said.

The sudden rise has created a shortage of oxygen concentrators needed to support the breathing of Covid-19 patients suffering from respiratory distress.

The health agency has purchased 14,000 oxygen concentrators from manufacturers and plans to send them to 120 countries in the coming weeks, the WHO chief said in Geneva on Wednesday. A further 170,000 concentrators – valued at about $100 million – will potentially be available over the next six months.

Meanwhile, the head of the WHO emergencies programme, Dr Mike Ryan, said the pandemic in many Latin American countries was still intense as deaths in the region passed 100,000 this week. Many countries had reported 25 to 50 per cent increase in cases in that time, he said.

“I would characterise the situation in the Americas in general as still evolving, not having reached its peak yet, and likely to result in sustained numbers of cases and continued deaths,” he said.

The US has criticised WHO’s handling of the pandemic, calling the agency “China-centric”. President Donald Trump demanded an immediate review and reforms and has pledged to quit the Geneva-based body.

European governments are also working with the United States on an overhaul plan.

While Mr Tedros has pledged accountability and a post-pandemic review, Mr Ryan said on Wednesday the agency was holding internal talks over its actions, including what it has learnt about controlling the virus.

Updated: June 25, 2020 05:07 PM

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