India Covid crisis: Scramble for oxygen amid surge in coronavirus cases

This video contains distressing images

As the Covid crisis worsens in India, oxygen supplies are further dwindling, reports ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery

Indian authorities scrambled to supply medical oxygen to hospitals amid the world's worst coronavirus surge - that set a new global daily record of infections for a third day.

Hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, and some of the worst-hit states like Maharashtra reported being critically short of beds and oxygen.

At least 20 Covid-19 patients at the critical care unit of New Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital died overnight as "oxygen pressure was low", the Indian Express newspaper reported.

Police help an elderly woman outside a vaccination centre In Mumbai. Credit: AP

"Our supply was delayed by seven-eight hours on Friday night and the stock we received last night is only 40% of the required supply," the newspaper quoted the hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr DK Baluja, as saying.

A further 13 Covid patients died after a fire in Vijay Vallabh hospital in Virar, near Mumbai as health workers struggled to provide medical care and oxygen.

The 346,786 infections over the past day brought India’s total past 16 million, behind only the United States.

ITV News spoke to Doctor Harjit Singh Bhatti, who said: 'I grieve for my patient who lost their life, but I also have relief for those patients who will get their bed'

The Health Ministry reported another 2,624 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s COVID-19 fatalities to 189,544.

Families were waiting for days to cremate their loved ones at overburdened crematoriums, with many turning to makeshift facilities for last rites.

The government ramped up its efforts to get medical oxygen to hospitals using special Oxygen Express trains, air force planes and trucks to transport tankers.

Multiple funeral pyres for Covid victims at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium in New Delhi. Credit: AP

But the crisis in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people was deepening, amid criticism of the government’s response and allegations that the scarce supplies of oxygen had been diverted by local officials to hospitals in their areas.

"Every hospital is running out (of oxygen). We are running out," Dr Sudhanshu Bankata, executive director of Batra Hospital, a leading hospital in the capital, told New Delhi Television channel.

The Supreme Court told Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government last week that it wanted a national plan for the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

The court acted as India’s fragile and underfunded health system was tattering, just months after leaders in the world’s second most populous country thought they had weathered the worst of the pandemic.

People wait to receive the coronavirus vaccine outside in Mumbai. Credit: AP

Now, hospitals officials are using social media to plead with authorities to replenish their oxygen supplies.

On Saturday, Dr Bankata’s Batra hospital reported severe shortage of oxygen for its 190 admitted patients.

When the news anchor asked Bankata what happens when a hospital issues an SOS call as his had done, he replied: "Nothing. It’s over. It’s over."

Hours later, the hospital received supplies to run for few hours.

Many Covid patients are dying in hospital car parks, ITV News Senior Correspondent Paul Davies reports

This video contains distressing images

As the oxygen scarcity deepened, local officials in several states disrupted movement of tankers and diverted supplies to their areas.

On Friday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported that a tanker-truck carrying oxygen supplies in Delhi’s neighboring state of Haryana went missing.

Days before, the news agency reported, a minister in Haryana blamed Delhi authorities for looting an oxygen tanker when it was crossing their territory.

Workers load oxygen cylinders at a charging station on the outskirts of Prayagraj. Credit: AP

"Unfortunately, many such incidents have occurred and have dire effect on hospitals in need of oxygen supplies," said Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top medical adviser on the pandemic, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with its counterpart agency in India to provide technical support and assistance.

"It is a dire situation that we’re trying to help in any way we can," Fauci said at the White House coronavirus briefing.

"They have a situation there where there are variants that have arisen. We have not yet fully characterised the variants and the relationship between the ability of the vaccines to protect. But we’re assuming, clearly, that they need vaccines."