India Covid crisis: Hospitals buckle under record surge

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India’s healthcare system is buckling as a record surge in Covid-19 cases puts pressure on hospital beds and drains oxygen supplies.

Families are left pleading for their relatives who are desperately ill, with some patients left untreated for hours.

Crematoriums are organising mass funeral pyres.

On Friday India reported 332,730 new cases of coronavirus, setting a world record for a second day running. Deaths were numbered at 2,263 in 24 hours.

Oxygen crisis

Dr Atul Gogia, a consultant at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi, told the BBC there had been a “huge surge” in patients, leaving no space in the emergency room.

“We do not have that many oxygen points. Whatever oxygen points are there, they’re full. Patients are coming in with their own oxygen cylinders or without oxygen. We want to help them but there are not enough beds and not enough oxygen points even to supply them oxygen if it is there,” he said.

“All our telephone lines are jammed. People are continuously calling the helpline. There is a big rush outside the hospital: there are ambulances parked, patients wanting to get deboarded, but the problem is, there is no space.

“We try to mobilise, we try to discharge patients who become stable as early as possible so that we can increase the turnaround, but things are difficult right now.”

Every morning, for the past few days, I have been waking up to my phone buzzing with desperate messages for help.

People are seeking hospital beds, life-saving drugs, oxygen and plasma for their infected and sick friends and relatives. Often, after a period of silence, the same people announce the deaths of their “patients”. My Twitter timeline is India’s Covid-19 war-room, as the state appears to have largely withered away.

Every essential to save a life is in shortage or available on the black market. Then there’s the fear of the virus literally “at your door”. Over the past week, three buildings in the gated complex where I live have become “containment zones”, with entire skyscrapers sealed because of too many infections. The days and nights are filled with helplessness, anxiety and fear. The bad news is unrelenting.

The Supreme Court of India has called this a “national emergency”. This is beyond an emergency. It is a “complete collapse of the goddamn system”, as one of India’s leading virologists says. In hotspots like Delhi and Mumbai, life, itself, is now a privilege.

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