India has received the first batch of more than $100m (£72m) emergency aid from the US as top industry experts predict the country’s oxygen crisis could last until mid-May, with thousands of lives hanging in balance.
A Super Galaxy military transporter arrived on Friday at Delhi airport carrying more than 400 oxygen cylinders and other hospital equipment along with nearly 1 million rapid coronavirus tests.
On the same day, India again broke its previous day’s record of daily infections, with 386,452 new infections and 3,498 deaths. India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections.
With more countries coming to India’s rescue amid the Covid disaster, the US promised aid following talks between Joe Biden and Narendra Modi.
The US president said “just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.”
Hospitals across India have been reporting shortages of medical oxygen, beds and medicine, with the black market booming as desperate family members continue to run pillar to post to arrange for life-saving medical equipment.
People are dying outside hospitals after they turning away patients due to a lack of oxygen cylinders.
Industry experts told Reuters the supply could take up to two weeks to get back on track while the country continues to hit records with each passing day.
Moloy Banerjee, South Asian head of Linde Plc, said “no one was prepared” for the steep curve and distribution has now been streamlined to move oxygen surplus from eastern India to harder-hit northern and western areas.
"My expectation is that by the middle of May we will definitely have the transport infrastructure in place that allows us to service this demand across the country," he said.
Mr Banerjee said medical oxygen consumption in India has exponentially increased more than eight-fold from the usual levels of about 7,200 tonnes per day, while the output rose by 25 per cent.
India is also importing around 100 cryogenic containers amid a shortage to transport for large quantities of liquid medical oxygen. Linde is the major contributor, supplying 60 of those.
The nation is receiving help from more than 40 countries that are sending vital medical aid, especially oxygen supplies, the foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, said.
The US issued the highest Level 4 Travel Health Notice for some 700,000 American citizens living in India, asking them to leave India “as soon as possible” due to the situation.
It highlighted a sharp spike in infections along with a lack of testing infrastructure, hospital beds and other medical supplies.
Meanwhile, despite the dire situation across India, voters queued up outside polling booths to cast ballots in West Bengal elections as Mr Modi hailed the “festival of democracy” and asked people to cast votes.
Mr Modi and his government are facing immense anger from the public and even a section of his supporters over the torrent of illness and death amid reports of an alleged cover-up and attempts to stifle criticism.
Addressing a virtual meeting with Indian ambassadors and high commissioners across the world, the foreign minister, S Jaishankar, on Thursday asked them to counter the “one-sided” narrative against Mr Modi and his government by international media, which he said was targeting the prime minister by saying he has failed and is “incompetent” in handling Covid, reported The Indian Express.
The Supreme Court said on Friday that no state should clamp down on information if citizens communicate their grievances on social media, adding that it will be treated as “contempt if any citizen is harassed".
This came after thousands of people are raising desperate calls for Covid-related help on social media each day in the absence of effective channels to seek help. The Uttar Pradesh chief, Yogi Adityanath of the ruling BJP, had reportedly ordered police to take legal action and seize the property of those asking for help online to “spread rumours.”
The crematoriums and graveyards are overrun in India queues of bodies outside the cremation sites. Parks and public places are being converted to expand cremation grounds.
While the daily deaths are reported around 3,000, widespread discrepancies are reported in many states with data from crematoriums and graveyards showing more deaths than the official data.
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