Oxygen shortage threatens thousands in India as pandemic cases surge

Laverne Higgins
April 25, 2021

Max Healthcare, which runs a network of hospitals in north India, tweeted that it had less than two hours of oxygen left while Fortis Healthcare, another big chain, said it was suspending new admissions in Delhi.

"We are just burning bodies as they arrive".

The first consignment of aid left the United Kingdom on Sunday and is due to arrive in India on Tuesday.

Hospitals in Delhi have gone to the city's high court this week seeking it to order the state and Union governments to make emergency arrangements for medical supplies, mainly oxygen.

"We are supporting our Indian friends with vital medical equipment at a hard time for them in this pandemic", said UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

The situation is equally grim at unbearably full hospitals, where desperate people are dying in queues, sometimes on the roads outside, waiting to see doctors. Hospitals and patients alike are struggling to procure scarce medical equipment that's being sold on the black market at an exponential markup.

A man reacts next to the body of his father, who died from COVID-19, at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2021 [Adnan Abidi/Reuters] But experts say the number of cases is probably many times higher and could rise further.

Currently, there are 25,52,940 active cases of COVID-19 in the country.

The government has also deployed military planes to get oxygen from the far corners of the country and overseas, including Singapore.

When the virus first erupted in India previous year, Modi imposed a harsh, nationwide lockdown for months to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.

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Israel's Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid praised the move, saying that it is "an important moral statement by President Biden". In the Armenian capital Yerevan, Taline Nourian, 41, said her people have been waiting for this moment for years.

"Most importantly, they should have looked at what was going on in other parts of the world and understood that it was a matter of time before they would be in a similar situation", Kuppalli said.

She called the government's premature declarations of victory over the pandemic a "false narrative", which encouraged people to relax health measures when they should have continued strict adherence to physical distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large crowds.

"When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can't let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they'll save lives", he said.

Now, with the death toll mounting, his Hindu nationalist government is trying to quell critical voices.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel also went on social media to declare that Germany is preparing an urgent support mission to India, adding that Germany stands in solidarity with India. Its head Ursula von der Leyen said the organisation was "pooling resources to respond rapidly to India's request for assistance".

Others such as US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release unused vaccines to India.

The White House said national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke by phone Sunday with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, and that the U.S.is "working around the clock" to send supplies.

In total, nine airline container loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, will be sent from the United Kingdom to India next week.

Meanwhile neighbouring Bangladesh has announced that it will close its border with India from Monday to prevent the spread of the virus.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi says Pakistan, believing in a policy of humanity first, made the offer to India and is awaiting a response.

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