India Gasps for Air as COVID Infects 1 Million People Every 3 Days

Oxygen has become one of the scarcest and most precious commodities in India.
April 28, 2021, 2:33pm
COVID patient
A COVID-19 patient breathes with the help of oxygen in Ghaziabad, India. PHOTO: Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

India is buckling under a ferocious second wave of the coronavirus, with hospitals filled to their capacity and struggling to cope with shortages of beds, medicine, and most importantly oxygen, which has become one of the country’s scarcest commodities.

To many families in the capital Delhi, one of the worst-hit cities, oxygen has become more precious and valuable than gold.

“Do whatever you want, sell my gold, but get me an oxygen cylinder,” one man told the New York Times

Workers sort oxygen cylinders before dispatch at a facility on the outskirts of Amritsar. PHOTO: NARINDER NANU / AFP

Workers sort oxygen cylinders before dispatch at a facility on the outskirts of Amritsar. PHOTO: NARINDER NANU / AFP

Many infected with COVID-19 reported low levels of oxygen in their blood - a crucial early warning sign that they need serious medical treatment.

A coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen. PHOTO: Prakash SINGH / AFP

Prices of oxygen cylinders have soared as India reports hundreds of thousands of new COVID-19 cases every day. PHOTO: Prakash SINGH / AFP

A BBC investigation found soaring prices of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, which extracts oxygen from the air, for sale on the black market. A cylinder is reportedly going for as much as $2,660, more than eight times its original price.

On Wednesday, India’s health ministry said the official death toll surpassed a grim milestone of 200,000 deaths, but experts warned the actual number may be higher.

A banquet hall temporarily converted into a COVID care centre in Delhi. PHOTO: Prakash SINGH / AFP

A banquet hall temporarily converted into a COVID care centre in Delhi. PHOTO: Prakash SINGH / AFP

Criticized for their poor handling of the pandemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it had enough liquid oxygen to meet medical needs and that it was rapidly expanding supplies.

“Domestic production is expected to cross 9,250 metric tonnes per day by the end of April,” Modi’s office said. But officials from production facilities, located far away from worst-hit cities like Delhi and the state of Maharashtra, had a different response.

“We do not have enough tankers to carry supplies. Most of the plants are located in eastern India, apart from a couple in the west. This means long distances and a lot of turnaround time. Add to this the problem of states holding up tankers on the way and you get an idea of the crisis,” one executive told the Indian Express.

A coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen. PHOTO: Prakash SINGH / AFP

Desperate to procure oxygen, some COVID-19 patients are begging for supplies on social media. PHOTO: Prakash SINGH / AFP

India’s oxygen crisis caught many off guard, with many desperate for resources turning to social media with their pleas as supplies in hospitals around the country ran low.

A patient breathes with the help of oxygen. PHOTO: Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

Delhi and the state of Maharashtra are some of the worst-hit places in India. PHOTO: Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

Others have resorted to waiting by makeshift roadside tents for oxygen treatment.

A patient breathes with the help of oxygen. PHOTO: PRAKESH SINGH / AFP

A COVID-19 patient lies helpless on the backseat of a car in Ghaziabad city, Uttar Pradesh, breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. PHOTO: PRAKESH SINGH / AFP

After mounting global pressure, the U.S. said that it would provide medical assistance to India. Other countries like Germany, the UK and Singapore followed suit, saying that they would be sending oxygen, ventilators and medical aid to India in the coming week.

A consignment of oxygen cylinders being loaded onto a Singapore aircraft to be sent to West Bengal. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE SINGAPORE / AFP

A consignment of oxygen cylinders is loaded onto a Singapore aircraft to be sent to West Bengal. The transportation of oxygen remains a logistical challenge. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF DEFENCE SINGAPORE / AFP

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