Covid Crisis in India: Rising deaths and shortage of oxygen and vaccines continue

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A COVID-19 patient breathes with a support of an oxygen mask sits inside a car outside LNJP hospital, in New Delhi on Sunday. (ANI Photo)

Courts last at Govt; Centre reviews situation; and Air Force aircraft bring aid from foreign countries

Our Bureau
New Delhi

India is living a nightmare. There is no good news on any front.

Delhi’s new COVID-19 cases slightly dipped on Sunday to 20,394 but the city saw 407 deaths in the last 24 hours. This is the second consecutive day when Delhi saw more than 400 deaths. According to Delhi Health Department, the city also saw 24,444 discharges in the last 24 hours. The total count of cases in the city has gone up to 11,94,946 including 92,290 active cases and 10,85,690 recoveries. The death toll has gone up to 16,966.

The city saw 412 deaths, 25,219 new cases, and 27,421 recoveries on Saturday. India on Sunday reported 3,92,488 new COVID-19 cases, slightly less from yesterday’s high of over 400,000 cases.

Bringing much-needed relief amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in the country, the India Air Force (IAF)’s C-17 aircraft on Sunday airlifted four cryogenic oxygen containers from Frankfurt in Germany to Hindon airbase near Delhi.

Along with this, 450 oxygen cylinders from Brize Norton in the UK were also airlifted to the Chennai airbase in Tamil Nadu. Additionally, C-17s airlifted two cryogenic oxygen containers from Chandigarh to Bhubaneswar, two from Jodhpur to Jamnagar, two from Hindan to Ranchi, two from Indore to Jamnagar, and two from Hindon to Bhubaneswar, the IAF informed.

C-17 transport aircraft are also preparing to airlift more oxygen containers from Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed.

“IAF C17 transport aircraft gearing up to airlift more empty oxygen containers from Singapore today. These containers will further boost oxygen availability in the country in view of the current Covid – 19 surge. The airlift is being coordinated by MHA,” the MHA Spokesperson tweeted on Tuesday.

In view of the prevailing Oxygen shortage of for Covid patients, the Delhi High Court on Sunday issued a notice to the Delhi Government on an application filed by the Centre seeking to recall yesterday’s High Court order.

An IAF MCC IL 76 airlifted three cryogenic liquid oxygen tanks from Singapore on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

A Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rekha Palli in an urgent hearing asked Delhi Government to respond to the Centre’s application seeking to recall yesterday’s High Court order. The HC on May 1 has asked Central Government to ensure that Delhi receives its allocated supply of 490 MT positively today, by whatever means and considering the fact that Delhi is not an industrial State, and does not have availability of cryogenic tankers of its own which could be requisitioned under the Disaster Management Act-like other States have done.

It falls upon the Central Government to arrange the tankers as well, so that the allocation made to Delhi could be fulfilled, lest it remains only a paper allocation. The HC had also warned the Centre that it may consider initiating contempt proceedings in case of non-compliance.

The Centre on Sunday reviewed the state of COVID-19 preparedness in Delhi in view of the spurt in cases across the country.

Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba today reviewed various aspects of COVID-19 preparedness in Delhi. Officials of the Government of NCT of Delhi (GNCTD) made a presentation in the meeting, covering issues of recent trends in the active cases, deaths and positivity rate; availability and expansion plans of medical infrastructure; status of oxygen availability; home isolation procedures and helpline; ambulance services; and testing. The meeting was attended by the Home Secretary Dr VK Paul, member, NITI Aayog, Chief Secretary, Delhi and other senior officials of GNCTD, senior officials of the Union Health Ministry, and Commissioners of Municipal Corporations of Delhi and Chairman, NDMC.

The Cabinet Secretary emphasised the need to ramp up the medical infrastructure in Delhi, at the earliest, to cater to the increasing demand for COVID beds, ICUs and ventilators. He also stressed the need to make available all relevant information on COVID beds and other facilities/ medicine availability to the public, through dedicated websites/ apps, on the basis of which people in need of such facilities/ medicines can approach the right place.

“A single helpline should be created at the front end, to provide relevant clinical information to the needy people, and should be popularized; the helpline can be serviced through a dedicated and well-staffed call centre”, read a press release by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The first consignment of Sputnik V vaccines from Russia arrive in Hyderabad on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

On issues related to the availability of oxygen, the Cabinet Secretary expressed his anguish at recent instances, where people had suffered due to lack of adequate and timely availability of oxygen. He asked the Delhi Government to make all out efforts to lift their allocated oxygen, using all the means at their disposal; and also to ensure that the oxygen available to them is distributed rationally and in a transparent manner, so that there is no diversion or leakage.

On the issue of adequate medical and healthcare human resources, he asked the Delhi Government to create flexible procedures to engage the services of retired medical professionals. Cabinet Secretary also asked for further augmentation of testing facilities and timely availability of test results.

Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal on Sunday asked concerned departments and agencies to submit an action plan with regard to the availability of hospital beds, medicines, medical oxygen as well as increasing the capacity of crematoriums and graveyards amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the national capital.

“Lt Governor has sought further advise from concerned departments and agencies with regard to the availability of key medicines, beds, medical oxygen and augmentation of capacities at crematoriums and graveyards, with the aim of addressing the ongoing problems being faced by people,” LG office said in a tweet from its official handle. The LG has also asked the departments and agencies of the Delhi government to submit a quantifiable action plan that could be monitored while addressing the problems due to shortages.

“LG has also suggested that the possibility of reemploying recently retired Doctors and other paramedical staff, where ever required, be looked into to address shortages,” he added.

A massive surge in COVID-19 cases in the national capital has resulted in shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen and medicines for patients.

Meanwhile, leaders of 13 opposition parties — including the Congress, Left and the Trinamool Congress — have come together and called upon the central government to ensure supply of uninterrupted oxygen flow to all the hospitals and launch a free mass vaccination drive across the country in view of the unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases.

In a joint statement which was tweeted by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, senior leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “Hope the Prime Minister will consider this joint statement from Opposition leaders seriously and in the right spirit. Meeting them immediately would be a good first step to rebuild trust and confidence during this time of national crisis.” “We call upon the central government to focus all its attention in ensuring uninterrupted flow of oxygen supplies to all hospitals and health centers across the country,” it added.

The statement further called upon the Centre to immediately launch a free mass vaccination program across the country, advising it to utilise the budgetary allocation of Rs 35,000 crore for the vaccination program for it

The signatories to the statement included Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister and JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Banerjee, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, DMK supremo MK Stalin, BSP chief Mayawati, SP leader Akhilesh Yadav, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, Left leaders Yechury and D Raja and Farooq Abdullah on behalf of the Jammu Kashmir Peoples’ Alliance.

India has been reporting three lakh COVID-19 cases on a daily basis for the past few days. Over two lakh people have lost their lives to the deadly disease since the onset of the pandemic in the country.

The country had started the COVID-19 vaccination drive on January 16 with two vaccines — Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India) and Covaxin (manufactured by Bharat Biotech Limited).

The second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination drive to inoculate people above 60 years and those over 45 with comorbidities against the coronavirus began on March 1. The third phase began on April 1 for all above 45 years of age.

On May 1, everyone above 18 years of age became eligible to get themselves vaccinated against novel coronavirus.

Amidst a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Sunday said that vaccination for those aged 45 years and above will be closed on Monday, while vaccination for 18 to 44 years will continue only at five centers.

Only those who have registered themselves in CoWIN app and who have been given the prescribed immuniwation centre and time (slot) would be given the jab. Earlier, the Municipal Corporation listed Nair Hospital, BKC jumbo Covid Centre, Cooper Hospital, Seven Hills Hospital, and the Rajawadi hospital to administer the vaccine doses.

Maharashtra reported 56,647 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, according to the state health bulletin on Sunday. However, the death toll touched 70,284 with 669 new deaths.

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