NEW DELHI • Sirens wailed, a police convoy escorting an oxygenated tanker arrived at a hospital in the Indian capital just in time to relieve doctors and relatives of Covid-19 patients who are counting on care to ward off death.
A severe lack of oxygen – essential for the survival of critical Covid-19 patients – has resulted in the country’s states closely monitoring their deliveries and even sending armed police officers to production facilities to ensure safety.
Several hospitals, including Shanti Mukand in New Delhi with 110 virus patients, said they almost depleted their oxygen supplies on Thursday. The outlook for patients and their troubled families was dire.
“The hospital came to us and asked us to make our own arrangements,” said Bhirendra Kumar, whose father was admitted with Covid-19 hits 10 days ago. “We’re not an oxygen company – how can we make our own arrangements?”
Earlier in the day, the hospital’s executive director, Sunil Saggar, suppressed tears as he described the decision to discharge some patients because the lack of oxygen meant there was nothing his hospital could do to help.
Over at the hospital’s oxygen supplier, Inox, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, about an hour from the capital, a line of a dozen trucks from cities across northern India were waiting to fill up.
Half a dozen drivers told Reuters they had waited three days for their trucks to be filled as rising demand from hospitals in the capital and elsewhere exceeded supply.
Mr Vakeel, who has only one name, has been working as a driver for Inox since 1994. He said the demand was unprecedented. “Every hospital wants three or four times as much as before,” he said.
The Inox plant was frequently visited by government officials and police officers, some of whom carried assault rifles to ensure supplies were not interrupted in any way.
A Uttar Pradesh police officer said they had been ordered to escort trucks to waiting hospitals.
While the added security is welcome, a facility manager said it was impossible to meet demand.
“Even if we build another five plants here, we won’t be able to do that,” said the manager, who refused to be identified due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Eventually a truck left the factory and reached the hospital in New Delhi late Thursday evening.
A crowd of relieved doctors and relatives who had gathered outside to wait for the truck to arrive returned.
“Some things in life are difficult,” said Dr. Saggar as the needle on the hospital storage tank ticked up from near zero. “You have to learn to deal with it,” he added. But the postponement is only temporary.
“Every day is like this now,” he said.
In less than 24 hours, the hospital will have to go through the process again as the needle will hopefully sink back towards empty on the way with new supplies.