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