February 26, 2024

A Covid-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent on May 6, 2021 on the side of the road in Ghaziabad.

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

India again reported a record number of cases and deaths Thursday as it faces a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections that has brought its healthcare system to the brink of collapse.

Health ministry data showed 412,262 new cases of infection were reported over a 24-hour period, bringing the total to over 21 million – days after crossing the 20 million mark on Tuesday.

India also reported the highest daily death toll, with 3,980 deaths. However, media reports suggest that the death rate is underreported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been criticized for allowing large crowds to gather for election campaigns and religious festivals earlier this year and for failing to anticipate or prepare for a second wave.

India’s oxygen crisis

Falls began to rise in February, but the second wave accelerated in April. The resurgence overwhelmed hospitals struggling with bed shortages and limited supplies of oxygen and medication to treat patients. The international community has pledged to send medical aid in the form of oxygen cylinders, concentrators and other medical supplies. Some of these relief supplies have reportedly arrived in India.

However, the situation has not eased as the number of cases increases, as does the severity of those cases, according to Abhay Soi, chairman and general manager of Max Healthcare, which has hospitals in Delhi, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttarakhand.

“That basically means that the demand for oxygen is also increasing,” he said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.

“Typically, an intensive care unit needs two and a half to three times the amount of oxygen a ward or patient needs in a bed. So if criticality increases and mortality increases, oxygen demand will increase too,” he said.

Soi stated that Max Healthcare runs approximately 4,000 RT-PCR tests in the Delhi area every day. About a week ago, these Covid-19 tests had a positivity rate of over 50%, which has since dropped to around 31%.

“What you are going to see now are people who got infected about seven or eight days ago and are coming to hospitals,” he said, adding that these patients need a variety of medications and support, including oxygen.

Courts enter

On Wednesday, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the central government to submit a comprehensive plan by Thursday outlining the steps to take to meet medical oxygen needs for hospitals in Delhi, including where to buy and how to transport. The country’s supreme court also suspended a letter of contempt sent to the central government by the High Court of Delhi on May 4 for failure to comply with its order to provide adequate oxygen to hospitals in Delhi.

Delhi Supreme Court justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli found on Tuesday that hospitals and nursing homes had to reduce the number of beds on offer because they were unable to service their existing capacities due to a lack of medical oxygen .

The National Capital Territory of Delhi, which includes the Indian capital New Delhi, is one of several areas that has seen rapid growth in some cases, forcing the local government to tighten restrictions in order to try to break the chain of transmission.

Logistics problem

India has adequate oxygen, but the main problem, according to Siddharth Jain, director of Inox Air Products, one of India’s leading manufacturers of industrial and medical gases, is logistics.

Jain told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Wednesday that the country’s oxygen manufacturers have increased production by more than 30% in the past few weeks. He said that over 9,000 tons of oxygen are available in India per day, while the consumption of medical oxygen is slightly higher than 7,500 tons.

“There is certainly a lot of oxygen. It’s just that we have to get the logistics right. It’s available in parts of India that are far from the parts of the consumption,” Jain said. He explained that most of India’s oxygen production takes place in the western and eastern states, some of which are relatively less densely populated and therefore do not require as much oxygen.

“Delhi is certainly the capital of India, but oxygen needs are nationwide,” he said, pointing out that it is difficult to get oxygen from one part of India to another.

According to Max Healthcare’s Soi, logistics have improved, but a few gaps still need to be closed.

For its part, the Indian government has stepped up its efforts to streamline the country’s oxygen supply. Two medical oxygen systems were built in New Delhi within a week and funds were allocated to install 500 such systems across India over the next three months.