Indian Officials Report More Than 117 People Dying From COVID Every Hour

A shortage of oxygen and surging COVID rates are ravaging hospitals in India, which reported Monday that more than 117 people in the country are dying every hour as its total amount of infections reached more than 17.3 million.

Desperate doctors are pleading for oxygen canisters for their dying patients on social media as the country set a new infection record for the fifth day in a row with more than 350,000.

"I feel helpless because my patients are surviving hour to hour," Dr. Gautam Singh told the Associated Press. "I will beg again and hope someone sends oxygen that will keep my patients alive for just another day."

India, initially viewed as a role model for developing nations in containing the virus, is collapsing under the weight of its latest outbreak. Intensive care units are at full capacity and hospitals have maxed out their ventilators while the country's overwhelmed crematoriums burn bodies in the open air.

The deluge of vases and deaths comes just a few months out from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's declaration that India had overcome the virus at the World Economic Forum.

The U.S. and Germany are working on aid packages to alleviate the crisis, which will include testing kits, ventilators, personal protective equipment and oxygen supplies. The U.S. said it would also offer sources of raw material for Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.

"Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need," President Joe Biden said on Twitter.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

India COVID
In this aerial picture taken on April 26, 2021, relatives and friends of a victim who died of COVID-19 gather to cremate a body at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Singh dreads the daily advent of the ventilator beeps, signaling that oxygen levels are critically low, and hearing his critically ill patients start gasping for air in the New Delhi emergency ward where he works.

On Sunday evening, when the oxygen supplies of other nearby hospitals were also near empty, the desperate 43-year-old took to social media, posting an impassioned video plea on Twitter.

"Please send oxygen to us," he said with folded hands and a choked voice. "My patients are dying."

SOS messages like the one Singh sent reveal the extent of panic in a country where infections are hitting new peaks daily.

Doctors like Singh are on the front lines, trying to get the supplies they need to keep their patients alive.

Singh received 20 oxygen cylinders on Monday, only enough to limp the hospital through the day until the ventilators start sending out their warning beeps again.

As bad as the situation is, experts warn it is likely to get worse.

Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University, said it would be impossible for the country to keep up with needs over the coming days as things stand.

"The situation in India is tragic and likely to get worse for some weeks to months," he said, adding that a "concerted, global effort to help India at this time of crisis" is desperately needed.

Help and support were also offered from archrival Pakistan, which said it could provide relief including ventilators, oxygen supply kits, digital X-ray machines, protective equipment and related items.

Germany's Health Ministry said it was "urgently working to put together an aid package" for India consisting of ventilators, monoclonal antibodies, the drug Remdesivir, as well as surgical and N95 protective masks.

Stung by criticism of its lack of preparation ahead of the wave of infections, the federal government has asked industrialists to increase the production of oxygen and life-saving drugs in short supply.

But many say it is too late—the breakdown a stark failure for a country that boasted of being a model for other developing nations.

Only three months ago, the country's leaders were boisterous, delivering messages that the worse was over.

A little less than a month later, his Bharatiya Janata Party passed a resolution hailing Modi as a "visionary leader" who had already "defeated" the virus.

By the second week of March, India's health minister declared that the country was "in the endgame" of the pandemic.

At the same time, the patients arriving at India's hospitals were far sicker and younger than previously seen, prompting warnings by health experts that India was sitting on a ticking timebomb, which went either unnoticed or ignored.

Millions of Hindu devotees celebrated the festival of Holi across the country at the end of March, foregoing social distancing guidelines and masks. Politicians, including Modi, spearheaded mammoth election rallies where tens of thousands participated without masks. And millions more gathered by the Ganges River for special Hindu prayers as recently as last week.

Now it's suspected all these events might have accelerated the unprecedented surge India is seeing now.

"Many people across India are paying with their lives for that shameful behavior by political leaders," Udayakumar said.

In a radio address on Sunday, Modi sought to deflect the criticism and said the "storm" of infections had left the country "shaken."

"It is true that many people are getting infected with corona," he said. "But the number of people recovering from corona is equally high."

India's government said last week it would expand its vaccination program to make all adults eligible, something long urged by health experts.

But vaccinations take time to show their effect on the numbers of new infections, and there are questions of whether manufacturers will be able to keep up with the demand. The pace of vaccination across the country also appears to be struggling.

Meantime, ordinary citizens are taking matters into their own hands, doing what they say the government should have done a long time ago.

Volunteers, from students to technology professionals, non-profit organizations and journalists, are rallying to circulate information on the availability of hospital beds, critical drugs and oxygen cylinders.

Like Singh, many have taken to social media, particularly Twitter, to crowdsource lists of plasma donors and oxygen cylinder supplies.

The system's imperfect, but some are getting badly needed help.

Rashmi Kumar, a New Delhi homemaker, spent her Sunday scouring Twitter, posting desperate pleas for an oxygen cylinder for her critically ill father.

At the same time, she made countless calls to hospitals and government helpline numbers, to no avail.

By evening, her 63-year-old father was gasping for breath.

"I was prepared for the worst," Kumar said.

But out of nowhere, a fellow Twitter user reported an available oxygen cylinder some 60 kilometers (37 miles) away. Kumar drove to the person's house where she was handed over the oxygen cylinder by a man.

"I was helped by a stranger when my own government continues to fail thousands like me," she said. "Unfortunately, everyone is on their own now."

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