Tawqeer Hussain | New Delhi
Shortage of oxygen, lack of beds, medicines, and in some cases, two patients share a bed. The vaccine is running out and doctors are over-worked, bodies are piling, mortuaries full and panic in the air is the normal life of every Indian these days as the country reported more than 3 lakh new infections per day from past six consecutive days and witnessed a sharp spike in COVID-19 related deaths, after months of declining numbers had given the country hope it had made it through the worst of the pandemic relatively unscathed.
Despite lower testing in the weekend, Monday was the sixth day in a row when India’s Covid count for the past 24 hours exceeded 3 lakh (3.2 lakh on Monday) and deaths crossed the 2,000 marks for the seventh consecutive day.
As the health crisis escalates, India’s health infrastructure has been crumbling due to an overwhelming number of patients requiring hospital care, forcing several hospitals in the National Capital New Delhi to send SOS for oxygen supply.
Social media in India is flooded with help messages with people looking for RT PCR tests, Oxygen cylinders, hospital beds for their relatives, friends who are infected with the virus.
Tales Of Tragedy
In the South-West district of Delhi, Satish Kumar, 46, and his family of four are waiting anxiously outside the Mata Chanan Devi Hospital after the hospital reported a shortage of oxygen supply on Thursday evening. His elder brother is admitted to the same hospital three days after he was tested positive for coronavirus, since then he has been on Oxygen support with little improvement.
According to the statement issued by the hospital to the local media in New Delhi, the hospital had oxygen supply only till Friday morning at 08 am IST.
“This comes as shock to us, how can oxygen, the basic need, be reported shortage,” Satish told this reporter.
“Our mother at home started wailing as soon as TV flashed the news, we instantly left the home and reached here and are trying to confirm the status of the oxygen supply”, Mr Satish said as tears started flowing.
“I am helpless, I don’t know where to go from here, what to do if anything happens to my brother,” he said.
Mr Satish’s brother was working as an electrician and had to go from home to home to fix the electricity as and when needed.
“We don’t know from where he got infected. He first reported a high fever on April 17 and on the second day he felt breathlessness. We immediately bought him here and he was admitted, since then he is on Oxygen supply”, Mr Satish ended.
Talking to the media, Head ICU, Mata Chanan Devi Hospital said that the hospital was lucky to have received the oxygen cylinders an hour before the supply exhausted.
“We have received two batches of 21 oxygen cylinders each today which is a relief for around 20 covid patients who are on oxygen in our hospital,” said Dr A C Shukla.
“Our priority is to refill the liquid oxygen tank to continue the uninterrupted supply” Dr Shukla added.
However, another leading chain of hospitals in New Delhi on Friday buzzed alert after it announced on Twitter that its hospitals are facing an acute shortage of oxygen. The hospital said around 700 patients are admitted in its six facilities across India’s National Capital.
The hospital said it had been awaiting fresh supply from oxygen manufacturer Inox since 1 is. “SOS – Less than an hour’s Oxygen supplies at Max Smart Hospital & Max Hospital Saket. Awaiting promised fresh supplies from INOX since 1 AM. @drharshvardhan @msisodia @PMOIndia @ArvindKejriwal @PiyushGoyal @SatyendarJain over 700 patients admitted need immediate assistance,” the hospital had tweeted at 7.43 am.
Two hours later Hospital updated their microblogging site informing them that they have received emergency supplies but need more oxygen.
Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, a leading hospital in New Delhi, on Friday reported the death of 25 patients in the last 24 hours. Families of the deceased alleged that the hospital used “low-pressure oxygen” for the patients, resulting in the death. Hospital hasn’t responded to such allegations, however, said their total oxygen supply will be exhausted in the next 5 hours and are waiting for the refuelling of tanks.
Mr Satish was lucky to find the bed so quickly for his brother, but Mr Hussain was not, it took him 2 full days to find a bed for his ailing Uncle using all resources.
“My Uncle is a Govt officer, He tested positive on April 10 and his condition deteriorated by April 13”
“By the evening of April 13, his office and myself started looking for the bed. I called around 7 hospitals in New Delhi, but there was no luck. All were full”.
“His office too reached out to various contacts in both Government and Private to arrange a bed, but everyone failed”
“On 16th April, finally after an exhausting search, his office managed to find a bed in another state of Uttar Pradesh around 40 kilometres from his residence”
But that was not the end of the long ordeal.
“Since then, he is in intensive care unit (ICU) fighting for his life”
Overwhelmed with the number of patients turning to hospitals, the local Government in New Delhi has turned the Commonwealth Games Village into a COVID Care Center for the treatment of patients. The makeshift hospital is equipped with 436 beds including 210 of those having oxygen facility. The centre is open for all and free of cost.
Commonwealth Games village was used to house international athletes participating in the 2010 games.
But the hospital bed is not the only issue that the Indian covid victims face as of now, once they are admitted to the hospitals, the availability of medicines become another concern for them.
Two medicines Fabiflu and Remdesivir have shown considerable impact in treating the covid patients and doctors have been recommending them to the patients.
With the rising demand for these medicines, several states in India are facing an acute shortage of their supplies.
“These medicines are being sold in the black market for around Rs 20,000 against the actual price of Rs 5000,” said a patient outside the Saroj Hospital in New Delhi, requesting Govt to “increase its local production”.
Hospitals Overwhelmed, Staff Exhausted
Manju Singh, 34, an insurance agent, was diagnosed with covid on April 04, after initial days of home quarantine, he was finally shifted to the hospital after he complained of breathlessness.
“I was in the hospital ward with an oxygen line for around a week and was later discharged after the second test came negative”.
Singh said the scene he witnessed inside the strained hospital was emotional.
“The doctors and nurses were working overtime to treat the patients. They were exhausted but focussed, eyes fixed on our reports and the beeping monitors. They had no time to listen, but all time to treat”.
“They work selflessly and under constant stress and we should always be thankful to them” he added.
‘It Is A Covid19 Tsunami’
Many doctors and experts are calling this second wave a ‘tsunami’, and it is stretching India’s already-broken healthcare infrastructure beyond its limits.
“A tsunami has struck our health care and we are in shambles as of now,” said emotionally choked Dr Shilpa Garg, a Rural health Officer in North India.
“People are struggling even to get the basic care, people are dying outside hospitals,” it is overwhelming, she added.
‘Double Mutant Strain Is The Cause Of Surge’
Public health experts suspect a new, Indian-origin “double mutant” coronavirus, first found in the Indian state of Maharashtra— called B.1.617 — as the main reason behind the surge.
“In India, we have a double mutant and a triple mutant, which are the virus of interest at this time”
“The circumstantial evidence suggests that the double mutant is the real reason behind India’s increasing covid cases, however further genomic analysis is required to support the claim,” said health expert Mr K Srinath Reddy, President Public Health Foundation of India.
Mr Reddy also blames the unpreparedness of Govt for the current crisis.
“We did increase a lot of temporary infrastructure during the first wave last year, however, it was later dismantled due to the wrong conclusion of the Govt in January,” he added.
“We thought we won the race against the Covid, but Covid returned with full forces, shaking the foundation of our healthcare which we didn’t anticipate”.
“Our steps to start the economic activity with full force and be lenient in health protocol took us in this terrible condition,” he concluded.
The Long wait For Tests
Due to the rising infection, people are struggling to even get tested. Symptomatic persons are running pillar to post to get home sampled.
Most of the laboratories have shut the home sampling facility due to virus threat or face a backlog of over 4-5 days.
“I have very high fever for the last 5 days and I called around 6 laboratories for home sampling, but all declined,” said Bhuteshwar Singh.
“A lab finally accepted my request on Friday morning, but didn’t come”
“If this scenario continues, I have no option, but to go directly to the hospital for testing.”
“In this way, I can spread the virus, but who is to blame for that”, he concluded.
Meanwhile, several countries across the world have put India on their travel ban list. The US, Hong Kong, the UK have already released fresh travel advisories for their citizens, asking them to avoid travelling to/from India. While UAE has not imposed a blanket ban or severe restrictions, but it has released a fresh set of guidelines for people travelling to Dubai from India.
“Passengers flying from India to Dubai will now have to submit RT-PCR negative test report with QR code on it,” the UAE advisory stated.
The Australian government has decided to temporarily reduce the number of flights from India by 30% after registering a spike in incoming travellers testing positive for Covid-19. People coming from high-risk countries such as India will also have to test negative for Covid-19 at least 72 hours before boarding a flight to Australia.
Countries Offer Support
United States, French, China, Pakistan, and Australia have offered help to India to respond to the pandemic or showed solidarity in the fight against Covid 19.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” US President Joe Biden tweeted.
“I want to send a message of solidarity to the Indian people, facing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. France is with you in this struggle, which spares no one. We stand ready to provide our support,” French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said on Twitter, attributing the remarks to Mr. Macron.
Australian Foreign Minister on Friday Tweeted, “Australia sends solidarity to our friends of India as it tackles this latest COVID-19 outbreak. India’s generosity and leadership in providing vaccines to our region is appreciated. We will continue to work together closely to respond to this global crisis,”.
Vaccination For All
India is running the world’s largest vaccination programme and has also supplied millions of doses to the other countries in the fight against Coronavirus. From May 1, India has opened vaccination for all above the age of 18 years.
According to the data shared by the Union Health Ministry, the total vaccination across the country has crossed more than the 14.5 cr mark.
“The cumulative number of COVID19 vaccine doses administered in the country stands at 14,50,85,911 as per the 8 pm provisional report today,” reads the press releases issued by the Health Ministry.