At least 24 patients died in western India’s Nashik when their oxygen supply was interrupted by a leakage. Deaths come as government hospitals in New Delhi report only having enough oxygen to last another eight to 24 hours.

Relatives wearing personal protective equipment mourn a man who died from the coronavirus disease during his funeral at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, April 21, 2021.
Relatives wearing personal protective equipment mourn a man who died from the coronavirus disease during his funeral at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, April 21, 2021. (Reuters)

A local administrator in western India has said 24 patients have died in a hospital when their oxygen supply was interrupted.

Suraj Mandhar, the district collector, said the oxygen supply has since resumed to other patients.

Fire officer Sanjay Bairagi on Wednesday said a leakage was detected and plugged by the fire service within 15 minutes, but was caused by a supply disruption at the Zakir Hussain Hospital in Nashik.

TV images showed white fumes spreading in the hospital area, causing panic.

More than 170 patients were on oxygen in the hospital, according to local media.

The disruption occurred as Health Ministry data showed a record 2,023 fatalities and over 295,000 new cases in 24 hours, among the world's biggest daily case totals and on a par with numbers seen in the US during a deadly surge in January.

Dwindling oxygen supply

Production of key coronavirus drugs slowed or even halted at some factories and there were delays inviting bids for oxygen generation plants, according to press reports.

Distraught relatives are now being forced to pay exorbitant rates on the black market for medicine and oxygen and WhatsApp groups are awash with desperate pleas for help.

"I am scared for my parents and relatives more than I am scared for myself because they are not young anymore and getting admitted into a hospital right now is next to impossible," one Delhi resident told AFP.

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.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who on Tuesday went into self-isolation after his wife tested positive, tweeted late Tuesday that some hospitals in the capital "are left with just a few hours of oxygen."

The health minister of the megacity of around 25 million inhabitants, Satyendar Jain, urged the federal government to "restore oxygen supply chain to avert a major crisis."

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Vaccine supplies run short

India has administered more than 130 million shots so far and from May 1 all adults will be eligible for a shot.

Some local authorities have, however, been running short of supplies, and India has put the brakes on exports of the AstraZeneca shot.

"I think in the coming week or two we will have a more quantitative estimate of and if any effect of this variant on the vaccine," Rakesh Mishra from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology told AFP.

In total India has recorded 15.6 million cases, second only to the US, and more than 180,000 deaths, though it is behind many countries on a per capita basis.

Restrictions across country

States across India have imposed restrictions, with Delhi in a week-long lockdown, all non-essential shops shut in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh set for a weekend shutdown.

Delhi's lockdown prompted tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee the megacity, in scenes reminiscent of the national shutdown a year ago that inflicted economic and human misery.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the country of 1.3 billion people was "once again fighting a big fight."

"The situation was under control till a few weeks back, and then this second corona wave came like a storm," he said.

"The (central government), states and private sectors are trying to ensure every needy patient gets oxygen," Modi said in his address.

There had been hopes that despite its packed cities and poor health care, India had managed to dodge largely unscathed a pandemic that has killed more than three million people around the world.

Recent weeks have seen mass gatherings including millions attending the Kumbh Mela religious festival, political rallies as well as lavish weddings and cricket matches against England.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies