India facing Covid 'storm' as oxygen supply drops dangerously low

In a televised address, Modi urges public to stay indoors as daily fatalities soar

NEW DELHI The authorities in Delhi said the Indian capital's hospitals would start running out of medical oxygen around the middle of this week as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country faced a coronavirus "storm" overwhelming its health system.

Mr Modi said the federal government was working with local authorities nationwide to ensure adequate supplies of hospital beds, oxygen and anti-viral drugs to combat a huge second wave of Covid-19 cases.

The outbreak set a new record yesterday with more than 2,023 deaths in 24 hours.The second wave has added almost 3.5 million new cases this month alone.

Health Ministry data yesterday showed 295,000 new cases in 24 hours, among the world's biggest daily totals of the pandemic and on a par with numbers seen in the United States in January.

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

"The central and state governments as well as the private sector are together trying to ensure oxygen supplies to those in need. We are trying to increase oxygen production and supply across the country."

Mr Modi is facing criticism that his administration lowered its guard when infections fell to a multi-month low in February and allowed religious festivals and political rallies that he himself addressed to go ahead.

"While we are making all efforts to save lives, we are also trying to ensure livelihood and economic activity is less impacted," Mr Modi said, urging state governments to use lockdown only as a last resort.

Mr Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, said major government hospitals in the city of 20 million people had between eight and 24 hours' worth of oxygen while some private ones had enough for just four to five hours.

The situation was so severe that some people had tried to loot an oxygen tanker, forcing the authorities to beef up security, said the Health Minister of Haryana state, Mr Anil Vij.

Television showed images of people with empty oxygen cylinders crowding refilling facilities as they scrambled to save stricken relatives in hospital.