Indian Police Protect Oxygen with Armed Escorts amid Coronavirus Shortage

Police personnel prepare to escort a truck carrying medical liquid oxygen at the Guru Nanak Dev hospital amid Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in Amritsar on April 24, 2021. (Photo by Narinder NANU / AFP) (Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)
NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

New Delhi police began providing armed escorts for oxygen tankers this week as they deliver precious supplies of the gas to hospitals across the Indian capital amid a dire oxygen shortage caused by a surging number of new Chinese coronavirus cases in the city.

The Inox oxygen supply plant provides oxygen to Shanti Mukand in western New Delhi. Officials at Inox, located one hour’s drive north of New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh state, told Reuters on April 22 the plant “has seen frequent visits from government officials and police, some wielding assault rifles, ensuring that there is no disruption of any kind to supplies.” An Uttar Pradesh police officer said he and his colleagues had received orders from New Delhi government officials “to escort trucks to waiting hospitals.”

Shanti Mukand hospital officials told Reuters on Thursday the facility had nearly “exhausted” its oxygen supply as it had 110 critical coronavirus patients in need of a steady stream of oxygen. Doctors and officials working at Shanti Mukand said they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of a police-escorted oxygen tanker from Inox on April 22.

The chief executive of Shanti Mukand hospital, Sunil Saggar, broke down in tears Thursday as he described to Asian News International (ANI) his difficult decision to discharge some of the hospital’s most critical coronavirus patients and reject new patients due to a lack of oxygen.

“We are hardly left with any oxygen. We have requested doctors to discharge patients, whichever can be discharged [sic],” Saggar told ANI.

“Whatever volume of oxygen we were giving, we have tried to tweak it so that it can last more. Hardly, if at all, something is there it may be two hours or something,” he said of the hospital’s dwindling oxygen levels.

The hospital chief said “110 patients are on oxygen” and “there are about 12 patients which are on ventilators.”

Continuing, Saggar said:

There are about 85 patients who are on more than 5 liters per minute of oxygen. There are other people that are also there [in need of oxygen], cancer patients, cardiac patients. And ultimately … it will [be a] very … deplorable condition, very unfortunate condition. … We as the doctors, we as the hospital, we are supposed to give life. If we cannot give them oxygen even … the patient will die.

The oxygen shortage has affected cities beyond New Delhi and spans several states across India. The nation, home to nearly 1.4 billion people, recorded the world’s largest daily Chinese coronavirus caseload on April 23 for the second consecutive day with 332,730 new infections and 2,263 deaths.

“[A] line of a dozen trucks from cities across north India waited to fill up” at the Inox oxygen supply plant north of New Delhi on April 22, according to Reuters. Half a dozen drivers told the news agency they “had been waiting for as long as three days to get their trucks filled, as surging demand from hospitals in the capital and elsewhere outstripped supply.”

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