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)
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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.


UN pressures UK over resettling Syrian refugees

UN pressures UK over resettling Syrian refugees
Updated 22 min 54 sec ago

UN pressures UK over resettling Syrian refugees

UN pressures UK over resettling Syrian refugees
  • Refugee resettlement halted due to pandemic, with Britain restarting its scheme months after US, France, Spain
  • UN hopes UK can return to ‘burden-sharing’ levels of previous years

LONDON: The British government is under pressure from the UN to resettle a specific number of Syrian refugees after it scrapped a previously pledged target.

The Home Office had run the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which committed Britain to welcoming 20,000 Syrian refugees between 2015 and 2020. The scheme ended in March this year.

But former Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced two years ago that a new “global resettlement scheme” would resettle some 5,000 refugees in the first year after the VPRS ended.

The Home Office has now scrapped this target, announcing that it will “maintain its long-term commitment to resettle refugees from around the globe” but without giving any indication of numbers or timings. 

The statement instead committed the department to keeping resettlement numbers under review “guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups as the UK recovers from Covid.”

The UN has criticized the Home Office for dropping its numbered commitment, arguing that the new plans will complicate the resettlement process.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told The Independent: “Having clarity on the numbers of refugees that are arriving via resettlement now and in future years is important for managing the programme — for UNHCR as well as local authorities and partners, who need clarity to be able to retain skilled staff. It also helps manage refugees’ expectations.

“We hope that the UK will continue to welcome at least as many refugees as it did in the years before the pandemic — around 5,000 a year — as an important commitment to burden-sharing for what is an acute global problem being made more urgent by Covid.”

Britain paused refugee resettlement after the government ramped up measures to tackle the pandemic in March 2020.

It did not resume its refugee work until November, months after other Western countries had returned to working on their plans.

Just 353 refugees were resettled in Britain in the year to March 2021, a 93 percent drop from the last reporting period.

Immigration Minister Chris Philp said: “While the pandemic has meant that resettlement activity has been disrupted over the last year, no one should be in any doubt of our commitment to build upon our proud history of resettling refugees in need of protection.

“The numbers we resettle will be kept under review and we will be guided by the capacity of local authorities, central government and community sponsor groups as we recover from Covid to provide places and support refugees to integrate into their communities and thrive.”


Americas-bound Iranian warships change course

Americas-bound Iranian warships change course
Updated 39 min 29 sec ago

Americas-bound Iranian warships change course

Americas-bound Iranian warships change course
  • Maritime trackers believe vessels now headed for Syria
  • US warned it would take ‘appropriate measures’ to prevent ships delivering arms to Venezuela

LONDON: Two Iranian warships, thought to be trafficking arms to Venezuela, have changed course and are now moving up Africa’s west coast.

The Biden administration had been pressuring Venezuela, Cuba and other countries in the region to turn the ships away, and a senior US official warned that it would take “appropriate measures” to prevent the delivery of arms to its hemisphere, which it views as a threat.

American officials believe that the diplomatic outreach can be credited for the ships’ change of course.

According to US news outlet Politico, a defense official believes that the ships are now headed for Syria via the Mediterranean, or for Russia.

The two ships are composed of a domestically manufactured destroyer, the Sahand, and the Makran, a former oil tanker fitted with a helipad and other military upgrades to make it a support vessel.

TankerTrackers.com tweeted: “We believe that the Iranian navy vessels MAKRAN and SAHAND are on their way to Syria in order to engage in navy exercises with Russia.”

Tehran has invested considerable amounts of money and manpower to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, including by providing personnel and funding, and by arming militias.

In the past, satellite imagery has shown fast attack boats on the Makran’s deck — vessels regularly used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to harass the commercial and military vessels of Iran’s adversaries, including US Navy and Coast Guard ships.

The White House and Pentagon have refused to comment publicly on the ships’ movements, but speaking before a committee last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers: “I’m absolutely concerned about the proliferation of weapons, any type of weapons, in our neighborhood.”

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton referred to the ships as “pirate ships,” saying the US “has a legitimate right of self-defense against both of them.”

The journey that the ships have undertaken is the longest of any Iranian warship in history. US Sen. Mark Rubio tweeted: “This does not look like an oil or fuel cargo delivery. This has all the markings of delivery on an arms sale (such as fast attack boats) to Venezuela coupled with the opportunity to project a message of strength to the Biden administration.”  

Politico reported last year that Venezuela, also a US adversary, was considering purchasing long-range missiles from Tehran — a move considered a “red line” by Washington. That sale never came to pass.


Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
Updated 18 June 2021

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
  • Former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film

KIGALI: Prosecutors in Rwanda on Thursday sought a life sentence for “Hotel Rwanda” hero and government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters.
“We have showed that every act by Rusesabagina was criminal in nature with the intent to commit terrorism,” said prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema, during a seven-hour hearing.
“We therefore request that he is given the maximum sentence provided for by the law, which is life imprisonment.”
The former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film that told how he saved more than 1,000 people who sheltered in his hotel during the genocide, a decade earlier, in which an estimated 800,000 died, most of them ethnic Tutsis.
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, subsequently became a prominent and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame and has lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.
Kagame’s government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebel group which is blamed for a series of gun, grenade and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in those attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing. He faces nine charges, including terrorism.
“As a leader, sponsor and supporter of MRCD/FLN, he encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts against Rwanda,” said Habarurema.
“Even if he did not actively take part in these attacks, he is considered as one who played a role by simply being a sponsor to these fighters.”


Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
Updated 18 June 2021

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
  • Headache now most common symptom
  • Time to update list of classic symptoms: Expert

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said it is time to update the list of “classic” COVID-19 symptoms, after research found that a headache and sneezing are now among the most common signs of the disease.

Prof. Tim Spector is co-founder of the ZOE COVID symptom study, which draws on global contributors to report their symptoms once they test positive for the virus. It is the world’s largest study into the symptoms of COVID-19.

Spector said a headache now tops the list of most common symptoms, with 60 percent of people who test positive experiencing one.

A runny nose and sore throat are also “going up that list,” he added, and sneezing is now fourth, though it is often confused with hay fever.

Of the original “classic” symptoms, only a persistent cough remains in the top five, with fever and loss of smell dropping to ninth and seventh place respectively.

These developments, Spector said, mean governments must update their guidance. “We do need a much broader flexible approach to this as the virus changes and the populations change,” he added.


Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
Updated 18 June 2021

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
  • The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month

MANILA: The Philippines has increased the number of nurses and health care workers allowed to go overseas to 6,500 annually, a senior official said on Friday, amid high demand for its health professionals.
The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month.
Those with contracts as of May 31 can take up overseas employment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. That means another 1,500 nurses and health care staff can work abroad, according to the labor ministry.
The labor minister on Wednesday said he would seek approval to allow 5,000 more health care workers to be deployed abroad, but a nurses’ group said there were many more than that hoping to find jobs with better pay abroad.
Health workers under government-to-government labor deals, such as that with the United Kingdom, are exempted from the new cap.
Roughly 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts in 2019, but the Philippines put a temporary halt on that in 2020, to shore-up its health sector as coronavirus hospitalizations rose sharply.
Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, said the additional 1,500 was frustrating.
“It is very unrealistic compared with the huge need for nurses,” she said.