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India’s Tattered Health Care System Is Collapsing

"The 350,179 new cases pushed India’s total past 17 million, behind only the United States. Deaths rose by 2,812 in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 195,123."

NEW DELHI (AP) — Delhi has been cremating so many bodies of COVID-19 victims that authorities are getting requests to start cutting down trees in city parks for kindling, as a record surge of illness is collapsing India’s tattered health care system.

Outside graveyards in cities like Delhi, which currently has the highest daily cases, ambulance after ambulance waits in line to cremate the dead. Burial grounds are running out of space in many cities as glowing funeral pyres blaze through the night.

India’s surge in coronavirus infections, growing at the fastest pace in the world, has left families and patients pleading for oxygen outside hospitals, the relatives weeping in the street as their loved ones die while waiting for treatment.

The nation of nearly 1.4 billion people set a global record of new daily infections for a fifth straight day Monday. The 350,179 new cases pushed India’s total past 17 million, behind only the United States.

Deaths rose by 2,812 in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 195,123, the Health Ministry said, though the number is believed to be a vast undercount.

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A stark symbol of the crisis are the overwhelmed graveyards and crematoriums, stacked to the brim with the dead.

In the central city of Bhopal, crematoriums have added pyres. One has been forced to skip the exhaustive rituals Hindus believe release the soul from the cycle of rebirth.

Overwhelmed crematoriums reflect the collapse of India’s already fragile health care system. Hospitals are unbearably full, with two or three patients to a bed in some cases. Officials are racing to add beds, ventilators and more oxygen to help the sick breathe.

Oxygen demand outstrips supply in India hotspots

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s medical oxygen shortage has become so dire that a Sikh house of worship began offering free breathing sessions with shared tanks to COVID-19 patients waiting for a hospital bed.

They arrive in their cars, on foot or in three-wheeled taxis, desperate for a mask and tube attached to the precious oxygen tanks outside the gurdwara in a neighborhood outside the capital, New Delhi.

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After having largely tamed the virus last year, India is in the throes of the world’s worst coronavirus surge and many of the country’s hospitals are struggling to cope with shortages of beds, medicines and oxygen.

The gurdwara management has promised to provide free oxygen to patients until they can be admitted to a hospital. Teams of volunteers check oxygen levels of newly arrived patients and provide what they need.

The gurdwara started the initiative Thursday evening, and by Friday evening had seen over 700 patients come through, reported The Hindu newspaper.

Most hospitals in India aren’t equipped with independent plants that generate oxygen directly for patients, primarily because they require an uninterrupted power supply, which is a rarity in many states.

As a result, hospitals typically rely on liquid oxygen, which can be stored in cylinders and transported in cryogenic tankers. But amid the surge, supplies in hard-hit places like New Delhi are running critically short.

Last year, India kept its hospitals sufficiently stocked by diverting oxygen from industries that were shuttered by one of the world’s strictest virus lockdowns. As Indians were cooped up indoors for months, industrial tanks were repurposed for medical use. Tanker trucks raced over empty highways to transport oxygen across the vast country to hotspots.

But with the current wave, blamed on a highly contagious variant that has spread quickly and widely without the limiting benefit of a nationwide lockdown, the situation is different.

Scores have died in hospitals in India’s capital amid suggestions that low oxygen supplies were to blame. Doctors have taken to social media to beg public authorities to get them resupplied, and the government has mobilized to bring oxygen supplies by train, plane and truck.

The demand for oxygen from hospitals has nearly tripled to 8,000 metric tons (8,800 tons), the federal government told the Delhi High Court last week. India’s total production was 7,500 metric tons of oxygen per day.

Most of India’s oxygen production capacity is centered around industries, many of which are concentrated in India’s eastern states. The current surge in infections is in the northern and western states.

Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, said the biggest challenge has been transporting oxygen to where it’s urgently needed.

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