India Faces Urgent Shortage Of Oxygen As Cases Soar – Japan Enters Third State of Emergency
India’s first ‘Oxygen Express’ train is transporting liquid medical oxygen from steel plants that produce oxygen to different parts of the country in desperate need of supplies to support treatment of seriously ill COVID patients.

India recorded the world’s highest daily toll of new infections for the second consecutive day on Friday, while Japan plans to impose its third state of emergency, just three months before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin. 

India is currently facing its worst outbreak of SARS-CoV2 since the pandemic began, with over 330,000 new cases recorded on Friday – more than triple India’s previous peak in late September, and surpassing the US record of 300,669 new cases on 8 January 2021. 

Over the past week, nearly 1.6 million new COVID-19 cases have been recorded across India. 

Daily deaths are also on the rise, 2,263 deaths were recorded on Thursday, bringing the total COVID-19 deaths up to 186,920, according to health ministry data. 

“The second wave is a consequence of complacency and mixing and mass gatherings,” Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi, told Reuters

Hospitals Call for Help as Oxygen Supplies Dwindle 

Health officials in northern and western India are raising the alarm that hospitals in major cities are becoming overwhelmed, pleading for government assistance. Oxygen supplies are running low. 

The low pressure of oxygen could be the cause of 25 deaths recorded over the last 24 hours at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi. 

“Oxygen will last another two hours. Ventilators and Bipap not working effectively. Resorting to manual ventilation in ICUs and Emergency. Major crisis likely. Lives of another 60 sickest patients at risk, need urgent intervention,” the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi said in a statement to the government early Friday morning. 

“Need oxygen to be airlifted urgently. Governments please help,” the statement said. 

Max Healthcare, a healthcare provider operating 16 facilities across North and West India, also sent out a warning about a shortage of oxygen, asking for “immediate assistance” on Twitter.   

The Max Smart Hospital and Max Hospital Saket received emergency supplies of oxygen shortly after the SOS call, however, it was only sufficient to last two hours and the facilities are still awaiting more supplies. 

Admissions to Max Healthcare hospitals in Delhi were suspended until the oxygen supply stabilised.

A Fortis Healthcare hospital in Haryana announced that it had “only 45 minutes of oxygen left” on Thursday evening, calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to dispatch an oxygen tanker to the hospital urgently. 

According to the city government of New Delhi, six hospitals in the city have run out of oxygen and neighbouring states have been accused of holding back supplies to service their own hospitals and blocking oxygen tankers at border crossings.

Sites producing oxygen are ramping up manufacturing to meet demand and a train, dubbed the ‘Oxygen Express,’ made its first trip carrying seven tankers, each filled with 15 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen on Thursday evening. 

Government hotlines are reportedly mostly down in the worst affected states, leading individuals to seek information on available hospital beds and oxygen supply on social media, sharing experiences and photos of patients waiting outside of emergency rooms that are over capacity. 

Urgent Imports of Oxygen Arranged

The Indian government has arranged to import 23 mobile oxygen generation plants from Germany, which will arrive within a week. The Armed Forces Medical Services will also airlift oxygen cylinders, essential medicines, and medical personnel from other regions to Delhi. 

Plans to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to meet the demand are underway, with Russia offering to supply both oxygen and Remdesivir. Imports are expected to begin within 15 days. 

China has also extended support to India to assist in getting the current outbreak under control. 

“China takes note of the recent grave situation in India with a temporary shortage of anti-epidemic medical supplies. We stand ready to provide India with necessary support and assistance to get the epidemic under control,” said Wang Wenbin, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, at a press conference on Thursday. 

At the same time, a growing number of countries are severely restricting or barring travelers from India, putting the country on the travel ‘red list.’ These include countries in Europe, as well as Canada, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand –  amid mounting concern about the surge of cases in India. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level 4 warning for India, advising travelers to avoid all travel to India. 

As India’s catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 rages on, only 8.1% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The national vaccination program will open to all individuals over 18 on 1 May, however, experts warn that the vaccine supply is not sufficient to cover the hundreds of millions of people who will become eligible. 

Japan Issues Targeted State of Emergency

Meanwhile, Japan has also declared a new state of pandemic emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, and two other regions. New restrictions will go into effect on Sunday until 11 May, the government announced. 

“We absolutely have to limit the movement of people, and we have to do it decisively,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the country’s COVID-19 response, at the announcement of the new restrictions on Friday. 

The state of emergency coincides with the Golden Week, a public holiday when domestic travel is expected to be widespread. Restaurants and grocery stores will close early and the public will be asked to work from home, but school will remain open. 

Japan recorded over 4,300 new cases on Friday, 1,162 were reported in Osaka and 759 in Tokyo. 

The rise in cases is taking place just three months before the Olympics games are set to begin on 23 July. The emergency measures are expected to be lifted by 11 May, ahead of a visit by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.

Despite opposition from the Japanese public and worries expressed by health experts, the Japanese government, supported by the International Olympic Committe (IOC)  has remained determined to have the games go ahead.  

“We’re not thinking about cancellation. We’re thinking about how we can prepare in a way that prioritises safety and makes people feel it can be held safely, and makes them want it to be held,” said Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organising Committee, on Friday. 

According to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Japan has no say in whether or not the Olympic games take place. 

“The IOC has the authority to decide and the IOC has already decided to hold the Tokyo Olympics,” said Suga. “We aim to hold the games while taking strong measures to protect people’s lives from the further spread of infections.”

Image Credits: Prasar Bharati News Services.

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