Many Indian hospitals overwhelmed by COVID surge as beds, oxygen fall short

Weekend curfew among new curbs ordered in New Delhi

A patient with breathing problem is rushed to a hospital for treatment, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad, India, April 15, 2021. REUTERS

A patient with breathing problem is rushed to a hospital for treatment, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad, India, April 15, 2021. REUTERS

Amit Dave

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU - Many Indian hospitals were scrambling for beds and oxygen as COVID-19 infections surged to a new daily record on Thursday, with a second wave of infections centred on the rich western state of Maharashtra.

Experts blamed everything from official complacency to aggressive variants. The government blamed a widespread failure to practise physical distancing and wear face masks.

"The situation is horrible," said Avinash Gawande, an official at a government hospital in the industrial city of Nagpur that was battling a flood of patients, as were hospitals in neighbouring Gujarat state and New Delhi in the north.

"We are a 900-bed hospital, but there are about 60 patients waiting and we don't have space for them."

Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, began a lockdown at midnight, a move that spurred a rush to stockpile essential items in advance.

At Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital in New Delhi, the country's largest facility treating COVID-19 patients, two or three patients were seen sharing single beds in some wards as overworked doctors attended to them, a Reuters witness said.

COVID-positive patients - from a one-and-a-half-year-old toddler to many elderly - and their relatives kept streaming in to the emergency ward at LNJP, arriving by ambulance, cars or auto-rickshaws through the day.

"Last year also we have not seen such a bad situation. This time the number is very high and increasing very rapidly, going (at a) very fast speed, so the situation is really alarming," said LNJP Medical Director Suresh Kumar.

"We are definitely overburdened... Today we have 158 admissions in Lok Nayak alone. All sick patients, all severe patients," Kumar added.

India has added 200,739 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed, for a seventh daily record surge in the last eight days, while 1,038 deaths took its toll to 173,123.

Its tally of 14.1 million infections is second only to the United States, with 31.4 million.

Despite injecting about 114 million vaccine doses, the highest figure worldwide after the United States and China, India has covered only a small part of its 1.4 billion people.

India said on Thursday regulators would decide on emergency-use applications for foreign COVID-19 vaccines within three working days, as it tries to attract Pfizer , Johnson & Johnson and Moderna to sell their shots.


In New Delhi, authorities ordered a weekend curfew, placing curbs on shopping malls, gyms, restaurants and some weekly markets. 

Outside a major city mortuary, weeping relatives gathered in the hot sun, waiting for the bodies of loved ones to be released.

Forty-year-old Prashant Mehra said he had to pay a broker for preferential treatment before he could get his 90-year-old grandfather admitted to an overstretched government hospital.

"He died after six or seven hours," he said. "We've already asked for our money back."

Supplies of oxygen ran short in places such as Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"If such conditions persist, the death toll will rise," the head of a medical body in the state's industrial city of Ahmedabad told its chief minister in a letter.

Television broadcast images of a long queue of ambulances carrying virus sufferers waiting to be admitted to a city hospital that can accommodate more than 1,000 patients.

India was producing oxygen at full capacity for each of the last two days, the government said, and it had boosted output.

"Along with the ramped up production ... and the surplus stocks available, the present availability is sufficient," the health ministry said in a statement.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries will supply 100 metric tonnes of additional oxygen to Maharashtra through its refinery in Jamnagar in western India, a state minister said.

In the northern city of Haridwar, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had thronged to a Hindu religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges on Wednesday, stoking fears of a new surge. 

(Reporting by Neha Arora, Danish Siddiqui, Sunil Kataria, Alasdair Pal and Krishna Das in New Delhi and Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad; Additional reporting by Rama Venkat and Akshay Lodaya in Bengaluru; Writing by Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie) ((; +91 80 6182 2754; Twitter: @sachinr27))

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