As Indian hospitals struggle to ensure an even supply of oxygen and more COVID-19 patients die amid the shortage, a court in New Delhi said it would begin punishing officials for not delivering the life-saving items.
On Sunday, India recorded a slight drop in new infections with 392,488 from a high level of 401,993 within the previous day. It also reported 3,689 additional deaths, bringing the total to 215,542. Experts believe that both numbers are a sub-number.
The government has used the rail, air force and navy to rush oxygen tankers to the hardest-hit areas, where overwhelmed hospitals are unable to cope with an unprecedented wave of patients gasping for air.
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Twelve COVID-19 patients, including a doctor, with high-flow oxygen, died Saturday at a New Delhi hospital after running out of supplies for 80 minutes, said SCL Gupta, director of Batra Hospital.
The Times of India reported 16 more deaths at two hospitals in southern Andhra Pradesh state and six at a Gurgaon hospital on the outskirts of New Delhi due to lack of oxygen.
When the government was unable to maintain a steady supply of oxygen, several hospital authorities sought a court intervention in the Indian capital, where a shutdown has been extended by a week to contain the wave of infections.
“Water has gone over your head. Enough is enough,” the New Delhi High Court said, adding it would begin punishing officials if oxygen supplies allocated to hospitals were not provided.
“We can not make people die,” Judges Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Patil said.
The court said it would initiate contempt.
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New Delhi recorded 412 deaths in the last 24 hours, the highest since the pandemic started.
The Army opened its hospitals to civilians in a desperate attempt to control the massive humanitarian crisis. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi also gave the army financial powers to the army to set up new quarantine facilities and hospitals and buy equipment.
The military also called up 600 doctors who had retired in the past few years. The Navy deployed 200 nursing assistants at civilian hospitals, a government statement said.
On Saturday, India said all adults over the age of 18 could get shots. Since January, nearly 10% of Indians have received a dose, but only about 1.5% have received both, although the country is one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines.
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India has so far provided more than 156 million vaccine doses. Some states have already said they do not have enough for everyone, and even the ongoing efforts to inoculate people over 45 are splashy.
The United States, Britain, Germany, and several other nations are rushing to India with drugs, rapid virus testing, and oxygen, along with some materials needed for India to increase its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines.