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India scrambles to find oxygen supplies as COVID-19 ‘storm’ hits country

Indian authorities scrambled to shore up supplies of medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, Delhi, on Wednesday as a fast-spreading second wave of coronavirus stretched medical infrastructure to breaking point, officials and doctors said.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

India, the world’s second most populous country, is reporting the world’s highest number of new daily cases and approaching a peak of about 297,000 cases in one day that the US hit in January.

The latest date released by the health ministry showed there had been 295,041 new infections nationwide overnight and 2,023 deaths, India’s highest in the pandemic.

Delhi’s government hospitals reported they only had enough oxygen to last another eight to 24 hours while some private ones had enough for just four or five hours.

“We are facing huge problems in oxygen supply but somehow we are managing. Yesterday, it was very critical. We had only four to five hours oxygen in the evening,” said Ronit Kumar, head Biomedical Engineering at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.

Replenishment came before dawn on Wednesday, with enough to last through the day, he said, adding they were pushing their suppliers. “Since they are also facing huge requirements, so I don’t know. I have not got confirmation,” he said.

Delhi, like large parts of India, lets its guard down when the virus seemed to be under control, allowing big gatherings such as weddings and festivals as daily infections fell to fewer than 1,000 during the winter, health experts said.

On Tuesday, the city of 20 million recorded 28,395 new cases and 277 deaths, its highest since the pandemic began. Every third person tested for coronavirus was found positive, the state government said, piling the pressure on health infrastructure.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India faced a coronavirus “storm” overwhelming its health system and the government was working with state governments and private companies to deliver oxygen with “speed and sensitivity.”

“The central and state governments as well as the private sector are together trying to ensure oxygen supplies to those in need. We are trying to increase oxygen production and supply across the country,” Modi said in a televised address on Tuesday evening.

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