New Delhi, India – On Saturday afternoon, 12 coronavirus patients died at Batra Hospital in New Delhi after running out of medical oxygen. Among the dead was Dr. RK Himthani, head of the gastroenterology department in the same hospital.
The private hospital in South Delhi was one of several in the Indian capital and across India to sound the alarm of a debilitating lack of oxygen while struggling to cope with patients pouring in requiring ventilators and intensive care beds.
Last week, Batra Hospital administration said they faced the same shortage, but the oxygen arrived minutes before the leak. They were out of luck on Saturday.
“There was no help”
Batra Hospital Executive Director Dr. Sudhanshu Bankata, Al Jazeera said they set off the first SOS alert around 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, but “no help came from anywhere”.
During the day, the oxygen levels in the intensive care units continued to decrease.
Doctors and paramedical staff in the intensive care unit on the fifth floor of the hospital in south Delhi worked with “ambu bags” (manual ventilators) to keep the patients alive and to fight against time.
“It was a chaotic situation,” said a doctor who refused to reveal his identity for fear of reparation. “There was panic everywhere.”
He said hospital staff must also push back desperate family members forcing their way to the intensive care unit, concerned about their sick loved ones after hearing the oxygen supply is dwindling.
Meanwhile, Bankata posted a video appeal on Twitter that the hospital was using an oxygen cylinder that would not last more than 10 minutes.
By noon, the hospital ran out of oxygen for more than an hour and a dozen intensive care patients, including Himthani, were killed.
It was the second such incident in the state capital since a violent second wave of COVID-19 hit India earlier this month.
On April 23, at least 26 patients died in the city’s Jaipur Golden Hospital when the intensive care units ran out of oxygen.
“The allocated quota (of oxygen) is well below the one required by Delhi,” Bankata told Al Jazeera.
Center, Delhi does not rule over oxygen
By quota, Bankata meant the federal government’s distribution of medical oxygen to states, including Delhi.
“Yesterday, Delhi received 440 tons of oxygen, which is below the allotted quota of 590 tons. We need 976 tons of oxygen every day as we increase the number of beds, ”Delhi’s Deputy Prime Minister Manish Sisodia told reporters on Monday.
Last week, frequent oxygen requests from Delhi hospitals sparked an oral argument between the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government in Delhi.
On April 24, during a virtual meeting that the Prime Minister had called with some Prime Ministers, Kejriwal Modi live-streamed his request for oxygen. An angry Modi accused Kejriwal of “breaking minutes” by making the developments public at an “internal meeting”.
On Saturday, the Delhi Supreme Court harshly ordered the central government to ensure that the hospitals in the capital are adequately supplied with oxygen. Instead of obeying, the Modi government filed a motion asking the court to revoke its order.
The High Court on Monday asked the center to respond to the Delhi government’s request to hand over the supply and distribution of oxygen to the armed forces.
In a joint statement by 13 prominent opposition leaders on Sunday, the central government was urged to “turn all attention to ensuring the uninterrupted flow of oxygen to all hospitals and health centers across the country”.
It is a serious situation. The Modi government must act. Our joint call for immediate action 👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/OY7YRbGDAQ
– Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) May 2, 2021
The heads of state and government also called for the “immediate start” of a “free mass vaccination program across the country”.
“It’s a serious situation. The Modi government must act, ”tweeted Sitaram Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM).
Meanwhile, social media continued to act as a hotline for desperate people looking for oxygen or hospital beds for their infected family members.
Some didn’t make it.
Harbhajan Singh lost his 64-year-old wife Kawaljeet Kaur in Batra Hospital when he ran out of oxygen on Saturday.
“I told my children that if we send them to the hospital, they will not come back alive. And that’s exactly what happened. She spoke until yesterday and today she is gone, ”said Singh to Al Jazeera in front of the hospital, trying to keep calm.
“My wife died because we didn’t get any help.”
Himthani’s friends also say they did not blame the virus for his death, but that it was the government that did not provide him with oxygen as he lay on his hospital bed gasping for breath.
“We lost a happy and smiling face … not because of the virus, but because of LACK OF OXYGEN,” tweeted his colleague Dr. Tushar Mehta.
When Al Jazeera was contacted about his comments on Himthani’s death, Mehta said, “He died of a lack of oxygen. Whose job is it to provide oxygen? “