Seema Gandotra, sick with coronavirus, was gasping for 10 hours in an ambulance, trying unsuccessfully at six hospitals in the vast capital of India to find a well-ventilated bed. By the time she was hospitalized it was too late and the 51-year-old man passed away a few hours later.
Rajiv Tiwari, whose oxygen levels began to decline after testing positive for the virus, had the opposite problem: He identified an open bed, but 30 residents of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh could not. To be. “There was no ambulance to take me to the hospital,” he said.
Such tragedies are familiar with spikes in other parts of the world – but barely known in India, which could avert a collapse in its health system by year. last through a tough lockdown. But now, they are happening every day in the vast country, which is witnessing the biggest pandemic outbreak ever and its chronic health shortage. fall.
Delayed tests. Medical oxygen is scarce. Hospitals are redundant and manpowered. Special care units were complete. Nearly all ventilators were in use, and the dead were piled up in cremations and graveyards. In the past 24 hours alone, India has recorded more than 250,000 new infections and more than 1,700 deaths, and the UK has announced a travel ban on most visitors from the country this week. Overall, India has reported more than 15 million cases and about 180,000 deaths – and experts think these numbers may be too low.
India’s wave of cases is contributing to an increase in the number of infections around the world as places experience more severe crisis, such as Brazil and France, in part due to new, contagious strains. more, including a variant discovered first in India. More than a year after the pandemic, the global death toll has surpassed 3 million and is growing again, averaging nearly 12,000 per day. At the same time, immunization campaigns have failed in many places – and India’s rise only exacerbates it: The country is a major vaccine producer but has been forced to delay the supply of injection to focus on domestic needs.
Bhramar Mukherjee, a biological statistician at the University of Michigan who has tracked the Indian pandemic, said India has failed to learn from the hikes elsewhere and to take projected measures. guess.
When new infections began to decline in September, authorities thought the worst of the pandemic was over. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan even announced in March that the country was on the “end game” – but he was behind the curve: Average weekly shifts in the state of Maharashtra, where the Mumbai financial capital, has tripled in the previous month.
Mukherjee was one of those who urged the authorities to take advantage of the low case early in the year to speed up vaccination. Instead, officials limit mass gatherings during Hindu festivals and refuse to postpone ongoing elections in the eastern state of West Bengal, where experts fear that crowds Large, disguised protests will promote the spread of the virus.
Now that India’s two largest cities have adopted strict door lock measures, the pain of this will fall into the hands of the poor. Many have left the big cities, fearing a repeat of last year, when sudden shutdowns forced many migrant workers to walk back to their villages or risk starvation.
New Delhi is rushing to convert schools into hospitals. Battlefield hospitals in abandoned cities are being resuscitated. India is trying to import oxygen and starting to divert oxygen supply from industry to the health system.
It remains to be seen whether these frantic efforts will suffice. The government-run Sanjay Gandhi hospital in New Delhi is increasing the number of beds for COVID-19 patients from 46 to 160. But R. Meneka, the COVID-19 response coordinator at the hospital, said he was unsure. whether the base material is capable of supplying oxygen to that many beds.
Ramesh Verma, the COVID-19 response coordinator there, said the government-run hospital in Burari, an industrial center on the outskirts of the capital, had only oxygen for two days.
“Every minute, we continue to receive hundreds of bed reservations,” he said.
Kamla Devi, a 71-year-old diabetic patient, was taken to a hospital in New Delhi when her blood sugar dropped last week. Upon returning home, her level plummeted again but this time, there was no bed left. She died before she could be tested for the virus. “If you have corona (virus) or if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. The hospitals have no room for you, ”said Dharmendra Kumar, her son.
A. Velumani, president and chief executive officer of Thyrocare, one of India’s largest private laboratories, said. The current demand is three times higher than last year, he said.
India’s massive vaccination series is also in trouble. Some states have flagged shortages, even though the federal government has claimed that there are enough reserves.
Last week, India said it would allow all COVID-19 injections that were approved by the World Health Organization or regulatory agencies in the United States, Europe, Great Britain or Japan. . On Monday, they said they would soon expand vaccination to all adults in the country, estimated at 900 million. But with the global supply of vaccines in short supply, it is not clear when Indian vaccine manufacturers will be able to meet these goals. Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech says it is scaling up to produce 700 million doses per year.
Meanwhile, Shahid Malik, who works at a small oxygen supplier, said the demand for medical oxygen had increased tenfold. His phone rang continuously for two days. On Monday, the store still had oxygen tanks but no bottles.
He answered each call with the same message: “If you have your own cylinder, come get the oxygen tank. If you don’t, we can’t help you. ”
The Associated Press Department of Science and Health receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Division. The AP is solely responsible for all content.