COVID-19: Indian doctors forced to beg for oxygen as hospitals buckle under record coronavirus surge

·2-min read

The Indian health system is buckling under the strain of an ever-worsening coronavirus pandemic - with hospitals now being forced to beg for oxygen.

The government is putting oxygen tankers on special express trains across the country to help save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.

India, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, has confirmed 16 million coronavirus cases - second only to the United States.

On Friday, it set another global record in daily infections for a second straight day, with 332,730 cases reported in just 24 hours.

And the situation is worsening by the day, with hospitals taking to social media, pleading with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop new admissions of patients.

Live COVID updates from across the UK and around the world

A major private hospital chain in the capital, Max Hospital, tweeted that one of its facilities had just one hour's oxygen supply left in its system and was waiting for replenishment.

Two days earlier, the facility had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court saying it was running out of oxygen, which was endangering the lives of 400 patients, of which 262 were being treated for COVID-19.

The government's response was to run the "Oxygen Express" trains carrying tankers to meet the shortfall at hospitals.

Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, said: "We have surplus oxygen at plants which are far off from places where it is needed right now.

"Trucking oxygen is a challenge from these plants.

"We have ramped up the production as oxygen consumption is rising through the roof.

"But we have limitations and the biggest challenge right now is transporting it to where its urgently needed."

The supreme court has now called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a "national plan" on the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

The situation is being exacerbated by the new double mutant COVID variant, first discovered in India.

And to add to the already serious problems, more than a dozen people died when an oxygen-fed fire ripped through a coronavirus ward in a populous western state.

The country has now been added to Britain's "red list" of places from which travellers will not be permitted to enter the UK.