Just 24 hours of oxygen left for Delhi hospitals,
Politics, thieves worsen crisis as cases hit record
In the back of the ambulance outside a hospital in Delhi, a barefoot elderly woman lies on a gurney.
A queue has formed up to the doors where desperate family members beg staff to let their relatives, most of whom are barely breathing, inside for treatment with the oxygen they need to survive.
The woman's son manages to bring a doctor over to the ambulance, but he can offer no assistance: she has died.
This scene captured by the BBC is being repeated across the Indian capital as the country broke the global record Thursday for coronavirus cases, recording 315,000 in the teeth of a fierce second wave driven by a more virulent strain of the virus.
Police in Haryana, the state surrounding Delhi, have been ordered to escort every delivery of oxygen after desperate families looted oxygen cylinders from a hospital in Madhya Pradesh.
“There are no hospital beds available and there are no oxygen cylinders available, I have checked nearly every hospital in Delhi,” said Vinod Srivastava, as she frantically searched for help as her aunt's oxygen levels hit dangerously low levels.
Politics is exacerbating the crisis in the capital as some states governed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) block supplies meant for Delhi, which is run by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party.
“We are being forced to give our oxygen to Delhi. First, we'll complete our needs, then give to others,” said Anil Vij, Haryana's BJP health minister.
The decision Thursday left all but one of Delhi's major hospitals with less than 24 hours of oxygen left, according to Delhi's Ministry of Health. Some had just six hours remaining.
“We've been making internal arrangements for now, but it will become tough to save lives after some time,” said Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister of Delhi.
At Holy Family Hospital, one of Delhi's leading private facilities, an ambulance arrives with a critical patient requiring oxygen every three minutes.
“It's really, really bad. It was like Lombardy in Italy last year but we have a much worse health care system. So many people are dying as they travel between hospitals trying to find oxygen,” said Dr. Sumit Ray, Holy Family's medical superintendent.
On Thursday, the hospital was one hour away from running out of oxygen for its 340 critical COVID-19 patients, who would have “died in minutes,” if a delayed tanker from Haryana hadn't arrived, according to Ray.
Some hospitals in Delhi have begun discharging critical patients because they cannot keep up with their oxygen demand.