Authorities struggle to cope as coronavirus crisis deepens in India

Patients die to to lack of oxygen as more than 300,000 new cases reported for a 12th straight day

India’s second coronavirus wave intensified on Monday as people continued to die for lack of oxygen, crematoriums and burial grounds overflowed and the paucity of intensive care unit hospital beds persisted, as did supplies of medicines and vaccines.

At least 36 Covid-19 patients are reported to have died at the weekend because of oxygen shortages at two leading hospitals in in New Delhi and in Chamarajanagar in southern Karnataka state.

India recorded more than 300,000 new cases of the virus for a 12th straight day on Monday, taking the total to just over 20 million. Almost 220,000 have died from the disease. Observers say the official figures under-represent the full scale of virus transmissions and deaths.

One doctor in Delhi described the oxygen shortage in the capital’s hospitals as “horrendous and terrifying”.


“Once we have used up our main supplies, there remains little or no hope for more, as federal and state governments continue to bicker over sourcing fresh oxygen” he said.

Prime minister Narendra Modi's besieged Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, meanwhile, is considering imposing a nationwide lockdown, due to a surge in cases of a mutant virus strain in 22 of 29 Indian states.

The inoculation drive against the virus remains suspended in most states, as stocks of two locally-produced vaccines are severely depleted.

At least 11 state high courts have stepped in after failures by the federal and provincial governments to manage the situation, directing authorities to ensure supplies of oxygen, medicines and vaccine. But analysts said this was a futile act. as making up all these shortfalls, despite overseas aid, would take time.

India’s supreme court also called on the BJP government to stop charging and arresting people who tweeted seeking medical assistance or aired their opinions on the overall dire state of affairs.

“We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media and internet, then it cannot be said it’s wrong information,” Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud said on Friday. “We will treat it as contempt of court if such grievances are considered for [penal] action,” he said.

The government, however, appears to have priorities other than the pandemic.

Proposed bungalow

It emerged on Monday that its Central Public Works Department in Delhi has approved final environmental clearance to build a grand new prime minister’s residence by the end of 2022, as part of the much larger complex already under construction for a cost of €2.2 billion, which also includes another parliament building.

The prime minister’s proposed bungalow, an adjoining new vice-presidential estate and related establishments that are estimated to cost the equivalent of €1.51 billion, are part of the Central Vista Project in Delhi’s centre, involving some 46,000 construction workers and engineers.

Despite the pandemic, the project has been designated an “essential service” and the entire endeavour is scheduled for completion by 2024, the year general elections are due.

Meanwhile, in its perception management of the pandemic, the government is also resorting to opposing overseas media coverage of the situation.

In a virtual meeting with Indian envoys from across the world on Friday, India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar declared that the “one-sided” narrative in international media that Mr Modi and his administration had failed the country by their “incompetent” handling of the second Covid-19 wave, needed countering.

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi