Business World

Oxygen supplies run low as India grapples with coronaviru­s ‘storm’


NEW DELHI — Indian authoritie­s scrambled to shore up supplies of medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, Delhi, on Wednesday as a fast-spreading second wave of coronaviru­s stretched medical infrastruc­ture to breaking point, officials and doctors said.

India, the world’s second most populous country, is reporting the world’s highest number of new daily cases and approachin­g a peak of about 297,000 cases in one day that the United States hit in January.

Delhi’s government issued a call for help on social media saying major government hospitals only had enough oxygen to last another eight to 24 hours while some private ones had enough for just four or five hours.

One hospital, the GTB hospital, got some oxygen supplies just before it was going to run out of stocks for its 500 patients, media reported.

“We had almost lost hope. All of us were in tears when we saw the oxygen tanker arrive,” one relieved doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, told India Today.

The city of 20 million recorded 28,395 new cases and 277 deaths on Tuesday, its highest since the pandemic began. Every third person tested for coronaviru­s was found positive, the state government said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India faced a coronaviru­s “storm” overwhelmi­ng its health system.

“Oxygen demand has increased. We are working with speed and sensitivit­y to ensure oxygen to all those who need it. The center, states and private companies, all are working together,” Mr. Modi said in a televised address to the country on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Modi faces criticism that his administra­tion lowered its guard when coronaviru­s infections fell to a multi-month low in Feb. and allowed religious festivals and political rallies, some of which he addressed to go ahead.

“The situation was manageable until a few weeks ago. The second wave of infections has come like a storm,” Mr. Modi said in his address, urging citizens to stay indoors and not panic amid India’s worst health emergency in memory.

India has launched a vaccinatio­n campaign but only a tiny fraction of its population has received shots.

Delhi is under a six-day lockdown to try and stem the transmissi­on. The western state of Maharashtr­a, home to the financial capital Mumbai, also plans to impose a stringent lockdown this week to try to halt the rise in cases, the cabinet said.

Mr. Modi ordered a tough lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people when the coronaviru­s was detected last year but his government has always been wary of the huge economic costs of tough restrictio­ns.

He said on Tuesday a lockdown should only be a last resort. —

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