Indian hospitals plead for oxygen, country sets virus record

Indian hospitals plead for oxygen, country sets virus record
Health experts say India got complacent in the winter, when new coronavirus cases were running at about 10,000 a day and seemed to be under control. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 23 April 2021

Indian hospitals plead for oxygen, country sets virus record

Indian hospitals plead for oxygen, country sets virus record
  • India’s underfunded health system is tattering as the world’s worst coronavirus surge wears out the nation, setting record 332,730 cases Friday
  • Hospitals took to social media to plead to government to replenish oxygen supplies and threatening to stop new patients’ admissions

NEW DELHI: India put oxygen tankers on special express trains as major hospitals in New Delhi begged on social media on Friday for more supplies to save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe.

More than a dozen people died when an oxygen-fed fire ripped through a coronavirus ward in a populous western state.

India’s underfunded health system is tattering as the world’s worst coronavirus surge wears out the nation, which set a global record in daily infections for a second straight day with 332,730.

India has confirmed 16 million cases so far, second only to the United States in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

India has recorded 2,263 deaths in the past 24 hours for a total of 186,920.

The fire in a hospital intensive care unit killed 13 COVID-19 patients in the Virar area on the outskirts of Mumbai early Friday.

The situation is worsening by the day with hospitals taking to social media to plead with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop admissions of new patients.

A major private hospital chain in the capital, Max Hospital, tweeted that one of its facilities had one hour’s oxygen supply in its system and had been waiting for replenishment since early morning. Two days earlier, they had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court saying they were running out of oxygen, endangering the lives of 400 patients, of which 262 were being treated for COVID-19.

The government started running Oxygen Express trains with tankers to meet the shortage at hospitals, Railroad Minister Piyush Goyal said.

“We have surplus oxygen at plants which are far off from places where it is needed right now. Trucking oxygen is a challenge from these plants,” said Saket Tiku, president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association.

“We have ramped up the production as oxygen consumption is rising through the roof. But we have limitations and the biggest challenge right now is transporting it to where its urgently needed. ”

The Supreme Court told Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Thursday that it wanted a “national plan” for the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

The New Delhi government issued a list of a dozen government and private hospitals facing an acute shortage of oxygen.

At another hospital in the capital, questions were raised about whether low oxygen supplies had caused deaths.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that 25 COVID-19 patients had died at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in the past 24 hours and the lives of another 60 were at risk amid a serious oxygen supply crisis.

It quoted unidentified officials as saying “low pressure oxygen” could be the cause of their deaths.

Ajoy Sehgal, a hospital spokesperson, would not comment on whether the 25 patients died from a lack of oxygen. He said an oxygen tanker had just entered the hospital complex and he hoped it would temporarily relieve the depleted supplies.

The New Delhi Television channel later cited the hospital chairman as saying the deaths cannot be ascribed to a lack of oxygen.

On the outskirts of Mumbai, the fire early Friday was the second deadly incident involving COVID-19 patients at a hospital this week.

The fire on the second-floor ICU was extinguished and some patients requiring oxygen were moved to nearby hospitals, said Dilip Shah, CEO of Vijay Vallabh hospital. Shah said there are 90 patients in the hospital, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

The cause of the fire is being investigated, he said. An explosion in the ICU air conditioning unit preceded the fire, PTI quoted government official Vivekanand Kadam as saying.

On Wednesday, 24 COVID-19 patients on ventilators died due to an oxygen leak in a hospital in Nashik, another city in Maharashtra state.

In New Delhi, Akhil Gupta was waiting for a bed for his 62-year-old mother, Suman. On April 2, she tested positive and was asymptomatic for 10 days. Then she developed a fever and started experiencing difficulty breathing.

For the next two days, her other sons, Nikhil and Akhil, drove around the city, visiting every hospital in search of a bed. Sometimes they took their mother with them, sometimes they went on their own. They looked everywhere to no avail.

On Friday, they got their mother into the emergency room at the Max Hospital in Patparganj, where she was put on oxygen temporarily as she waited in line for a bed to open up inside.

“Now the doctors are asking us to take her away because they don’t have enough oxygen to keep her in the emergency room. But we’re not even getting any ambulance with oxygen to transport her to some other facility,” said Akhil Gupta.

The family decided to stay at Max and continue waiting for a bed.

“What else can we do?” said Akhil.

A year ago, India was able to avoid the shortages of medical oxygen that plagued Latin America and Africa after it converted industrial oxygen manufacturing systems into a medical-grade network.

But many facilities went back to supplying oxygen to industries and now several Indian states face such shortages that the Health Ministry has urged hospitals to implement rationing.

The government in October began building new plants to produce medical oxygen, but now, some six months later, it remains unclear whether any have come on line, with the Health Ministry saying they were being “closely reviewed for early completion.”

Tanks of oxygen are being shuttled across the country to hotspots to keep up with the demand, and several state governments have alleged that many have been intercepted by other states to be used for their needs.

Ashok Kumar Sharma, 62, was finally put on oxygen on Monday in his home in West Delhi. It only happened after days of frantically searching for an oxygen cylinder from various hospitals, clinics and private distributors.

“I called at least 60 people looking for oxygen, but everyone’s numbers were switched off,” said Kunal, Sharma’s son.

Kunal’s father was diagnosed with pneumonia on April 14, and a few days later, tested positive for COVID-19. The doctors recommended he be put on oxygen immediately. When Kunal could not find any, he put out an SOS on social media.

“But there is so much black marketeering going on. People contacted me selling cylinders for 3 times, 4 times the original price,” said Kunal. He finally acquired one from a personal contact.

“It’s horrible how people are taking advantage of our helplessness,” he said.


Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world
Updated 12 May 2021

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world
  • The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region

LONDON: Large protests were held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in London, as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson against an Israeli court ruling to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday that could have forced dozens of Palestinians from their homes, citing the “circumstances.”

The recent round of violence began when Israel blocked off a popular spot where Muslims traditionally gather each night during Ramadan at the end of their daylong fast. Israel later removed the restrictions, but clashes quickly resumed amid tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.
The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region. 
In Jordan, protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy, burning Israeli flags and chanting “Shame, shame the embassy is still there” and “Death to Israel!“

Pro-Palestinian protesters march past parliament as they participate in a demonstration against Israeli attacks on Palestinians after at least 28 people were killed following clashes over the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in central London on May 11, 2021. (AFP)

Palestinians scuffled again with Israeli officers in riot gear on Tuesday evening, although less intensely than on previous nights.
Palestinian man Siraj, 24, said he had suffered a spleen injury from a rubber bullet fired by the police.
“They shot everyone, young and old people,” he said.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of using “abusive and wanton force against largely peaceful Palestinian protesters.”
(With AFP and AP)

 


Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout
Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout
  • Islamabad’s role is to be ‘a partner in peace,’ says foreign minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Tuesday it will not provide air bases to the US after the troop withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan, vowing to protect the nation’s interests and support the Afghan peace process.

“No. We don’t intend to allow boots on the ground here, and Pakistan isn’t transferring any base (to the US),” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in the capital Islamabad.

Last month, US President Joe Biden said that the remaining 2,500 foreign troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, more than four months after the initial deadline of May 1 set by the Taliban and Washington as part of a historic accord signed in Doha more than a year ago.

He warned the Taliban that the US could defend itself and its partners from attacks as it draws down its forces, and that Washington would “reorganize its counterterrorism capabilities and assets in the region” to prevent the emergence of another terrorist threat.

The removal of the remaining US troops coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Qureshi said that his government had formulated an “explicit policy” regarding partnership with the US for peace in Afghanistan.

“We will be partners in peace, and this will be our role — the role of a facilitator,” he said.

In his congressional testimony last month, Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said that Washington is engaged in “a significant” diplomatic effort to determine where it will base a counterterrorism force in the region to deter terrorist groups after all American troops leave the country.”

He added: “No such understanding, however, currently exists with any of Afghanistan’s neighbors for housing the proposed anti-terrorism forces.”

Qureshi denied there had been pressure on Pakistan from the US to provide air bases, saying: “There is no pressure. Pakistan will protect its interests.”

He said that Islamabad hoped to see peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“It’s our need, and we want it to happen this way,” he said, vowing to continue support for the US-led Afghan peace process.

Afghans will have to take ownership of the peace process to make it a success, he said.

“The basic responsibility for peace lies with the Afghans, and we are praying for their success.” 

Qureshi also welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day cease-fire during the Eid holidays in Afghanistan on Monday.

“This is a positive development. The reduction in violence will help provide a conducive environment for negotiations,” he said.

Pakistan’s military bases and land routes played a crucial role in facilitating and sustaining the US-led military invasion of landlocked Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long retaken control of its bases from the US forces, and defense analysts said it would not be in the country’s interest to hand these over to Washington once again.

“The US wants to maintain its surveillance of Afghanistan after the troops’ withdrawal, and that is why it is looking for options in the region to house aircraft, drones and maintenance systems,” Lt. Gen. (retd) Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, told Arab News.

He added that Washington “may maintain its presence in India” with which it has already signed a logistics support agreement, but “even then they would need Pakistan’s permission to use the air corridor for any drone or jet flight to Afghanistan.”

“We have already suffered a lot due to America’s war in Afghanistan and cannot sustain it further by providing military bases,” he added.

Related


Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river
Updated 12 May 2021

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river
  • Discovery of half-burnt, decomposed bodies sends shock waves among locals in the Buxar district of Bihar

NEW DELHI: Local authorities in the Buxar district of India’s eastern state of Bihar on Tuesday confirmed the discovery of 71 dead bodies, suspected to be of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, after they washed ashore along the banks of the river Ganges. 

The discovery sent shock waves and panic among locals in the Chausa town of the Buxar district on Monday after they found the half-burnt, decomposed bodies along the river, confirming media reports that the pandemic had spread to rural areas of India, the global epicenter of the pandemic. 

“We have conducted the postmortem of 71 bodies on Monday and preserved their DNA for future investigation,” Kanhaiya Kumar, the district’s public relations officer, told Arab News. 

He added that the “bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition and had floated in from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.”

Bihar’s Buxar district shares its border with the Ghazipur area of the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. The River Ganges, which starts from the Himalayas, crisscrosses through Uttar Pradesh before entering Bihar, flowing into Bengal and eventually merging with the Bay of Bengal. 

Locals, however, dispute the district administration’s claims that the bodies came from the neighboring state. 

“The fact remains that the water in the river Ganges is shallow these days, and at many places between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the river is dry. How  can the bodies come from the other state?” Kapindra Kishore, a Buxar-based journalist, told Arab News. 

“The villagers are claiming over 100 bodies were floating, and they say that many deaths are taking place in the rural areas that are not being reported,” he added. 

On Tuesday, India registered more than 330,000 cases and 3,700 deaths, slightly lower than Monday. 

Out of the total tally, Bihar reported over 10,000 cases and 75 deaths. 

Some, however, allege that the data is being underreported. 

“There is a community transfer of the virus this time, and many are dying in villages without adequate medical supply. You will never get the actual data because people are dying at home without going to the hospital,” Ajit Kumar Singh, a local legislator from the Dumraon area of the Buxar district, told Arab News. 

“If earlier 15 to 20 bodies were being cremated per day in the district crematorium, now at least 100 are being burnt every day,” he explained, adding that many locals cannot afford the expensive wood necessary for the funeral pyres. 

“Just like COVID-19 medicines are being sold in the black market these days, so too the wood for cremation is being supplied at a higher rate,” he said. 

“Poor people who can’t afford wood at higher rates throw the dead bodies into the river in a half-burnt state. This is the reality today,” he added. 

According to official data, the Buxar district has registered 78 deaths so far in the second wave of COVID-19. 

Doctors say the number is much higher than reported. 

“The situation is really grim in Buxar and adjoining areas, and the discovery of the bodies at Chausa shows how bad we are placed,” Dr. Mahendra Prasad, a Buxar-based doctor and district president of the Indian Medical Association, told Arab News. 

“Not even cities are prepared to handle the crisis, much less villages. People are dying in rural areas in large numbers, which are not reflected in the official data,” he added. 

There are about 100 beds in hospitals across Buxar, which has a population of more than 1.7 million. 

“The administration was not ready to handle the situation. Now they are working on it, but whether it will be adequate is difficult to say. We are dependent on God’s mercy,” Prasad said. 

One of the worst-affected villages in the district is Dharahara, which reported 15 deaths in the past week. 

“In every village, there are more than 20 people who are COVID-19-positive, and in my village itself, in just over one week, some 15 people have lost their lives,” Rama Shankar, a Dharhara-based student activist, told Arab News. 

“The government has failed us completely. People are dying due to a shortage of oxygen, a lack of beds in hospitals and the complete negligence of the health sector,” Shankar said, adding that “essential medicine like Remdesivir, which should normally be available for no more than $50, costs $500 in the black market.” 

He said that “the virus has spread into the community, but the government is not doing mass testing to break the chain of infection. We are suffering because the government has failed us.”


India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt
Updated 11 May 2021

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt
  • The shipments came as part of Egypt’s support and solidarity with friendly countries

CAIRO: India has bought 300,000 doses of the Remdesivir drug from Egypt’s Eva Pharma company as it grapples with a coronavirus crisis.

The Indian Embassy in Cairo on Monday signed an agreement to procure 300,000 doses of the drug that is used to treat coronavirus infections.

The signing ceremony was attended by Indian envoy Ajit Gupte and Riad Armanious, CEO of Eva Pharma.

It was held at the embassy of India in Cairo, with the embassy acting on behalf of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Gupte thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly for directing relevant Egyptian authorities to cooperate with India in the medical emergency.

He expressed confidence in Remdesivir to effectively heal of tens of thousands of coronavirus patients.

Gupte praised the keenness of the Egyptian state and Egyptian national institutions to support India.

He said that the sale of the drug will play a “crucial” role in India’s fight against coronavirus. The country is expected to receive doses quickly over the next few days, according to the Middle East News Agency.

Armanious affirmed his confidence in Remdesivir speeding up the recovery of Indian coronavirus patients.

He said that the drug prevents the virus from reproducing inside the cells of the human body and stops its spread, which will reduce death rates in India.

Armanious added that the drug has achieved “great success” across several continents after it was exported to a large number of countries.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population sent three military aircraft to India loaded with large quantities of medical aid.

The shipments came as part of Egypt’s support and solidarity with friendly countries, and implements the directives of El-Sisi, an official statement said.

India is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, with high rates of infections and deaths amid an acute shortage of medicine, medical supplies, and prevention and protection tools.


Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid
Updated 11 May 2021

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid
  • Most of the crowd on Tuesday in Madrid waved Palestinian flags and shouted “Israel, assassin of the Palestinian people”
  • Protestors wore face masks as stipulated by Spanish health laws to fight pandemic

MADRID: A few dozen people have gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in the Spanish capital to protest Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians.
Most of the crowd on Tuesday in Madrid waved Palestinian flags. They shouted “Israel, assassin of the Palestinian people” and “it’s Palestine, not Israel” in Spanish.
Some held up photos of Palestinians being arrested by Israeli forces. All wore face masks as stipulated by Spanish health laws to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The escalation in the conflict was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.