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India: Court threatens federal government over oxygen failure

The Delhi High Court has warned it would take action against the central government if it failed to provide medical oxygen to hospitals across the city. The Delhi administration said it had no reserves.

A covid patient in New Delhi, India. Copyright: Naveen Sharma

Many hospitals have raised SOS calls for oxygen

The Delhi High Court said on Sunday it would start punishing central government officials if they failed to provide a steady oxygen supply, warning that it would start contempt proceedings if there was no compliance.

Watch video 02:33

Overwhelmed medical centers turn away sick

The court urged the government to supply 490 metric tons of oxygen to Delhi, as promised earlier. The court order was passed after taking into consideration the federal government's statement that it had no oxygen left in reserve to meet the SOS needs of the hospitals. 

Many hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, and across the country have reported deaths due to an oxygen shortage, with the country hit severely by a second wave of the pandemic. 

Deaths due to oxygen shortage

"The water has gone above the head. Enough is enough. You will arrange everything now. Eight patients have died today due to lack of oxygen," said the division bench of judges.

Twelve patients, including a doctor, died Saturday at a hospital in New Delhi after it ran out of supplies for more than an hour. Another 16 deaths have been reported in the state of Andhra Pradesh and six in Haryana, as hospitals ran out of supplies there. 

With oxygen shortages widespread in India, the government has used railways and employed the services of the military to the worst-affected regions. India is short of cryogenic tankers that are used to transport oxygen. 

The army has opened up its hospitals to the public in a bid to deal with the shortage of hospital beds. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also given the army emergency financial powers to set up quarantine facilities and get new medical equipment. 

The court also asked for information on admissions and discharges from all government and private hospitals across Delhi. The court observed that while the recovery rate was high, there was a "choking of beds."

"Every day a substantial number of beds should become available. But that does not appear to be happening. Patients who require hospitalization with oxygen support should normally be in a position to leave within 8-10 days subject to their condition," said the court. 

India expanded its vaccination drive to people aged between 18 years to 44 years of age on May 1. More than 86,000 in the category received a dose on the first day.

Authorities reported 392,488 new cases from the past 24 hours on Sunday, with a slight dip in numbers. The death toll rose by 3,689, with Delhi reporting 412 deaths. Many believe both these numbers to be underreported. 

tg/rc (AFP, AP)

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