World

Indian hospitals scramble for oxygen as infections pass 5 million

In big states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, demand for oxygen has more than tripled

MUMBAI India's coronavirus infections surged past five million yesterday, piling pressure on hospitals grappling with unreliable supplies of oxygen that they need to treat tens of thousands of critical patients.

In the big states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, which are also some of the worst-affected by the virus, demand for oxygen has more than tripled, doctors and government officials said, prompting urgent calls for help.

"Desperate patients have been calling me through the night but I don't know when I will get stock," Mr Rishikhesh Patil, an oxygen supplier in the western city of Nashik, told Reuters.

The Health Ministry reported 90,123 new infections yesterday, taking the total caseload to 5.02 million.

The death toll from Covid-19 is now at 82,066 with 1,290 fatalities in the previous 24 hours.

India has the world's fastest growing epidemic and added its last million infections in just 12 days.

It is only the second country in the world to have more than five million cases, after the US.

At least 6 per cent of India's nearly one million active cases need oxygen support, Health Ministry official Rajesh Bhushan told reporters. Supplies were adequate but state governments should monitor usage and flag shortages.

"The problem happens when at a facility level, if there is no inventory management. Every state should ensure this," Mr Bhushan said.

Dr Ravindra Khade Patil, a doctor who manages two private hospitals on the outskirts of Mumbai, spoke of the stress he faces trying to ensure he can supply his patients with oxygen.

Two days ago, the supplier of oxygen to his hospitals did not turn up at the usual time.

Dr Patil made frantic calls to the supplier and then to nearby hospitals and lawmakers, knowing that if the oxygen did not arrive on time, it would be too late for some of his most critical patients. Finally, past midnight, thanks to pressure from a government official, the oxygen tanks arrived.

"If they had arrived even a couple of hours late, we could have lost five or six patients. Every day, we are worried if we will be able to meet our requirements, if the oxygen will arrive or not," Dr Patil told Reuters.

BIGGEST RISE

In South-east Asia, Indonesia reported its biggest daily rise in infections with 3,963 new cases yesterday. It now has 228,993 cases. There were 135 deaths, taking the total to 9,100, the biggest death toll in South-east Asia.

The Philippines reported 3,550 cases and 69 more deaths. The number of total cases has risen to 272,934, the most in South-east Asia, while confirmed deaths have hit 4,732.

Malaysia recorded 62 cases yesterday taking the total to 10,031. The death toll remains at 128.

In a separate development, a World Health Organisation special envoy described the global pandemic situation as "horrible" and "grotesque".

"It is much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics," Dr David Nabarro told British MPs on Tuesday.

"This is really serious - we are not even in the middle of it yet. We are still at the beginning of it." - REUTERS, THE STAR, AFP

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