India's gov't eases hospital oxygen shortage as demand jumps

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A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a person to test for COVID-19 as others wait for their turn outside a field hospital in Mumbai, India, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Infections in India hit another grim daily record on Thursday as demand for medical oxygen jumped seven-fold and the government denied reports that it was slow in distributing life-saving supplies from abroad. (AP Photo/Rajanish kakade)

NEW DELHI – Under order by the Supreme Court, India's government on Thursday agreed to provide more medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital city of New Delhi, potentially easing a 2-week-old shortage that worsened the country's exploding coronavirus crisis.

Government officials also denied reports that they have been slow in distributing life-saving medical supplies donated from abroad.

The government raised the oxygen supply to 730 tons from 490 tons per day in New Delhi as ordered by the Supreme Court. The court intervened after 12 COVID-19 patients, including a doctor, died last week at New Delhi’s Batra Hospital when it ran out of medical oxygen for 80 minutes.

On Wednesday night, 11 other COVID-19 patients died when pressure in an oxygen supply line stopped working at a government medical college hospital in Chengalpet in southern India, possibly because of a faulty valve, The Times of India newspaper reported.

Hospital authorities said they repaired the oxygen line last week, but that the consumption of oxygen doubled since then, the newspaper said.

The number of new confirmed cases in India on Thursday surpassed 400,000 for the second time since the devastating surge began last month.

The 412,262 new cases pushed the country's official tally of confirmed cases to more than 21 million. The Health Ministry also reported 3,980 deaths over the past 24 hours, boosting the country's total to 230,168. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

K. Vijay Raghvan, a principal scientific adviser to the government, characterized the explosion of cases “a very critical time for the country.”