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COVID-19 surge rattles hospitals in India


In New Delhi, one sound is conspicuous these days — the siren of ambulances. More so outside the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of India’s largest COVID-19 facilities.

As India is witnessing an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases, the hospitals in Delhi and other parts of the country are overflowing with patients, with experts warning the health care system is teetering on the brink of collapse.

“Two weeks ago, I used to bring one or two patients here…but now I drop 5-6 positive patients every day to the different hospitals. It is very scary,” says Sarvesh Pandey, an ambulance driver, outside the Lok Nayak Hospital.

India’s daily cases have topped 200,000 since Thursday, with Delhi reporting nearly 24,000 new cases for the first time on Friday.

With more patients arriving at the hospital, the critical care facilities at the Lok Nayak Hospital are almost occupied, leading to shortage of beds. As per the Delhi government’s COVID-19 app, as of Sunday morning, of the total 4,124 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds with ventilator support, only 89 were vacant.

“There is a lot of burden on the hospital. We are trying our best to provide facilities to the patients who are coming here,” Dr. Suresh Kumar, medical director of the hospital, told.

Other public hospitals in Delhi are also in dire state. Out of a total of some 17,000 COVID-19 beds in the capital, only a little above 3,600 are vacant.

Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Saturday said the situation is very serious and concerning. “Now, there is a shortage of oxygen supply,” he said, adding that beds equipped with oxygen and ICU beds are filling fast.

Running from pillar to post

Many family members have had to run from pillar to post to find an ICU bed.

“We first went to GTB [Guru Teg Bahadur] Hospital yesterday, but we were informed that there is no bed available there. We then came here and here we were given one,” said Anil Kumar from Delhi’s Mehrauli area, whose father tested COVID-19 positive a few days back.

Reports have been coming in from different parts of the country about shortage of hospital beds. Many aggrieved citizens took to social media to share their ordeal.

Chitranshul Sinha, a lawyer, said his cousin could not get a hospital bed in Ranchi city and died. “In his final hours neither could he get a Covid test (for days), nor could he get a hospital bed,” he wrote on Twitter.

Vinay Srivastava from northern Uttar Pradesh state on Saturday afternoon wrote on Twitter, “My oxygen is 31. When some will help me?”

With reports surfacing about shortage of oxygen supply at hospitals, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he has comprehensively reviewed the situation.

“The Government is allowing Industrial cylinders to be used for medical oxygen after due purging. Similarly nitrogen and argon tankers will be automatically allowed to be converted to oxygen tankers to overcome the potential shortage of tankers,” said a government release, adding that the prime minister was also briefed about the efforts being made to import medical grade oxygen.

Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday morning said that all “possible support is being extended” to states to fight the coronavirus. Vardan said steps include ensuring uninterrupted supply of oxygen to the states.

Brink of collapse

Health experts say extra measures are needed as the health system is likely to collapse. “We have to be careful, our health system is likely to collapse. The present number of cases have definitely rattled our health care system. We need to take strict measures,” says epidemiologist Dr. Lalit Kant.

He said the only solution to the issue of shortage of beds and oxygen supply is to cut down the transmission. “Since things are moving out of control, the only solution to break is to have an extended lockdown,” Kant said, adding that the government must step up the immunization drive.

K. Srinath Reddy, head of the think tank Public Health Foundation, told that cases are definitely going to increase in the coming days. “We are still a very open society, with a lot of mixing and movement among people,” he said.

According to Reddy, the surge has caught the health workers off guard. “We built facilities; we did a lot of good work last year. But previously the progressional epidemic was much slower, the daily number was less and we managed to respond,” he said. “Now the sudden speed and the scale at which the surge is happening, is catching us off guard.”

Meanwhile, with more fatalities reported in New Delhi, crematoriums and burial grounds in Delhi are struggling. There are reports that metal structures have melted at some crematoriums as they are being used round-the-clock

“There is a huge increase now. Since April 2 till April 16, cremation of more than 250 bodies has been done,” Vishal Mishra from Nigambodh Ghat cremation in Delhi told.

Mohammad Shamim, a supervisor at Delhi’s largest burial ground, echoes the same views. “We are short of space now…we are burying too many people,” he said.

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