India broke its own record for daily coronavirus cases and deaths again on Thursday as the country grapples with a spiraling crisis made worse because of a critical lack of oxygen.
The number of new confirmed infections reached 412,262 on Thursday, the second time this month that daily cases topped 400,000, while the Health Ministry reported 3,980 new deaths over the last 24 hours. Both figures are considered undercounts, experts said.
Demand for medical oxygen in the country has also jumped sevenfold, compounding the problem.
On Wednesday night, 11 COVID-19 patients died when pressure in an oxygen line suddenly dropped, possibly because of a faulty valve, the Times of India reported.
Most infirmaries in India don’t have independent plants that generate oxygen directly for patients — doctors typically rely on liquid oxygen stored in cylinders and transported in tankers, but supplies in hard-hit locales are running critically short.
Harsh Vadhan, the country’s health minister, claimed there is enough oxygen supply but there are difficulties getting it to the places that need it most. Most oxygen is produced in eastern sections of the country, but demand is rising in northern and western parts.
On Tuesday, India constructed a sea bridge from Bahrain and Kuwait in the Persian Gulf to ferry oxygen tankers across, officials said.
Experts told the Washington Post that India could soon be seeing 500,000 new cases a day before the surge begins to taper off, and K. Vijay Raghvan, a primary scientific adviser to India’s government, said the current phase of the crisis is a “very critical time for the country.”
Wealthy Western nations such as the US, Britain and Germany are rushing rapid tests, oxygen and therapeutics to the country, as well as the materials needed to boost production of vaccines, which will enable the manufacturing of 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot.
The Indian government dismissed reports that it waited seven days to come up with a plan to distribute foreign medical supplies as “totally misleading” and said a streamlined mechanism for allocation has been put in place.
With Post wires