As India’s Covid Crisis Grows, Emergency Oxygen Trains Rush To Save Patients

Oxygen supplies were being transported by train to Delhi due to shortages in hospitals in the capital, as the Covid crisis in India worsened.

The country confirmed a record 3,780 deaths on Wednesday, a day after it became just the second country after the United States to pass 20 million infections in total.

Piyush Goyal, the Minister of Railways, called the trains “Oxygen Express” in a Tweeter and said they would “provide a continuous supply of oxygen to patients with Covid-19 in the capital”.

He also has tweeted Indian Railways deployed several “300-bed-capacity isolation coaches” to Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat state that faces more than 13,000 daily cases on Wednesday. At least three trains arrived in Delhi on Wednesday carrying oxygen, according to NDTV news.

Train coaches, Goyal said, are staffed with medical professionals and equipped with medical facilities and equipment, as many hospitals in India have exceeded their capacity. Shortages have led hospitals to turn away patients.

The gap between demand and supply of medical personnel and supplies is significant. And for frontline healthcare workers, the toll is heavy.

Beds are seen inside a Gurudwara converted to a Covid-19 care facility in New Delhi, India on Wednesday.Adnan Abidi / Reuters

“We were expecting a second wave and we thought we could handle it like we did in the first wave. This big push was not planned and we were not sufficiently prepared to resolve it, ”said Dr Sai Aditya Nayudu, a pulmonologist working on the front lines in the city of Rajkot, Gujarat.

“We are now taking action to resolve the problem, but there is still a long way to go.”

India’s health ministry on Wednesday announced an additional 382,315 new cases and its national death toll has now exceeded 220,000. However, experts fear the real numbers are five to ten times higher in the country with a population of 1.35 billion inhabitants.

Experts say this devastating second wave was the culmination of high-profile events, including religious congregations and election rallies in the past two months. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have come under fire for their complacency in ending mass rallies and their lack of preparation for a second wave.

Dr Dipshikha Ghosh, a resident of the intensive care medicine department in Kolkata, West Bengal, told NBC News that the second wave has pushed doctors to the limit. “The hospital I work in has its own oxygen plant. Even then, one day, very recently, our oxygen almost ran out. Almost. Until the reserves kick in, we almost lost a patient.

“Watching someone gasp and not be able to provide oxygen is something that will stay with every healthcare worker for the rest of their life,” she added.

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Calls for a nationwide lockdown have been echoed nationally and internationally, with Dr Anthony Fauci recounting Indian Express newspaper that a nationwide lockdown, alongside mass vaccinations and the construction of makeshift hospitals, would be necessary measures to curb the spread of the virus.

The government has been reluctant to impose a nationwide lockdown on India because of the consequences it could have on the economy. Some states have instead chosen to implement their own social brakes.

Workers prepare to load refilled oxygen cylinders into a vehicle to supply hospitals treating patients with the Covid-19 coronavirus in Bangalore on Wednesday.Manjunath Kiran / AFP – Getty Images

Dr Nigil Haroon, scientist and clinical immunologist at the University of Toronto, Canada, said there was no solution other than lockdown. “The only way to stop cases from going up is to break the chain,” he said.

“Certainly the impact can be felt in just two weeks, but we don’t want to think of a lockdown in two weeks as new daily cases don’t appear to be peaking.”

Although it has transported vaccines to many countries around the world, India is also facing shortages nationwide. At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the capital Mumbai, have had to close some vaccination centers.

“There is no doubt that India needs to increase vaccination,” Dr Haroon added. However, vaccination campaigns will need to be well planned so that they do not spread the virus in communities where infection rates are already high.

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