KOLKATA, India – Ajasvi Bhatia knew it was around the clock on Friday as he waited in line to fill his oxygen cans at a facility southwest of India’s capital, New Delhi.
His 61-year-old mother was admitted in critical condition to a hospital about 12 miles away in Gurgaon, and he was running out of time to return to her with oxygen.
“In the morning I was told by the hospital that there was only 90 minutes of oxygen left. Since then, we have been running and trying to organize it ourselves,” he said, standing in front of a medical facility to refuel. “We can drive an empty cylinder in the hope of filling it here.”
US Airlines COVID-19 for aid deliveries to India
A U.S. Air Force C-5 cargo plane left Northern California on Wednesday, carrying COVID-19 aid to India. The cargo included oxygen cylinders, medical masks and rapid test kits as India battled the coronavirus wave. (April 29)
Bhatia said he had not yet been allowed to fill the facility.
“Time is running out. We hope to get it and be able to save my mother,” he said.
India announced 386,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday – a global daily record. Hospitals are left without beds. Crematoria burn bodies at night. With a lack of oxygen in hospitals, patients suffocate and their families – overwhelmed with grief and helplessness – run frantically to obtain oxygen on their own.
Indian Americans: Families watch, worry 8,000 miles away
Biden: The United States restricts travel from India
In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal in eastern India, Priyam Malik experiences the loss of his mother as he tries to figure out how to break the news to his father, a heart patient who is also recovering from COVID-19. He was recently released from the hospital, but remains weak with a low heart rate, she said.
“I don’t know how to tell him the news of my mother’s death. I’m afraid he might have another attack when he hears the news,” Malik said.
Malik said her elderly parents stayed home during the pandemic, but both were positive in April. Malik, who lives at her father-in-law’s home with her husband and six-month-old daughter, said she was unable to visit her sick parents.
“As their condition worsened, they both had to be admitted to different hospitals,” Malik said. “It wasn’t easy to find a bed and there was no intensive care bed for my mother. She was on oxygen. The hospital gave her oxygen, but she finally gave in.”
“This time almost everyone is affected”
Doctors, armed with limited resources, say the second wave of infections has hit so hard that they are struggling to cope with its scale.
“It’s a very bleak situation for everyone, from patients to doctors and healthcare professionals,” said Vinnie Cantru, an infectious disease specialist at Apollo Indraprasta Hospital in New Delhi. “This time, almost everyone is affected in every family, so they can’t even take care of each other at home or even cook their own food.”
Country said many patients needed oxygen and respiratory support.
“If about 15 to 25% of those infected need it, then it becomes a huge number. We have increased our intensive care units, but even that is not enough for this influx of patients,” she said.
Indian crematoria struggling to cope with growing COVID-19 deaths
With ambulances lined up as far as the eye can see as COVID-19 ravages India, some crematoria have focused on building funeral pyres outside.
USA TODAY, Storyful
Country said he is not only facing a shortage of medical equipment – the health system also needs more people trained on how to work with the equipment.
“We also have a crisis of trained health workers and nurses, as it takes at least six months to a year to get proper training,” Cantru said.
Subhra Priyadarshini, Editor-in-Chief of Nature India, an online research publication for science and medicine, said anger is growing because the pandemic affects every household in India.
“The second wave is at least apocalyptic. But should we be surprised? Some models had predicted it a long time ago,” she said. “We tried to overcome the crisis and the concealment of data and information took precedence over hard scientific evidence, as virologists, epidemiologists and modelers were excluded from the conversation.”
Worship and political rallies
Infectious disease experts say a combination of political, biological, behavioral and meteorological factors have fueled the current outbreak. The excitement comes in the wake of the Ganges River “super spreader” pilgrimage and a series of political rallies leading to the recent assembly elections.
Indian jump: The fragmentation of the COVID-19 case is the result of a “perfect storm” of factors, experts say
In West Bengal, which turns out to be the new main zero of infections, tens of thousands of people attended rallies. On Thursday, the state added more than 17,000 cases, leading to nearly 800,000 since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Officially, West Bengal reported 11,248 deaths, and India as a whole reported more than 208,000 deaths. But experts suspect that government estimates obscure the true extent of the suffering.
As the death toll continues to rise, anger at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is spilling over on social media. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu ruled that members of the country’s election commission should be charged with murder, as they allow large political rallies and fuel the current exponential spread.
The devastating second wave has also halted the country’s vaccination campaign. India is the largest producer of vaccines and has so far vaccinated more than 15 million of its 1.4 billion people.
COVID-19 updates: 100 million Americans received two doses or one J&J shot
Contribution: Grace Hawk
The Red Cross is helping India deal with the COVID crisis
The Red Cross is helping India tackle the record wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths that have plagued its healthcare system. On Tuesday, India reported 323,144 new infections for a total of more than 17.6 million cases. (April 27)