Twenty people died at Delhi's Jaipur Golden Hospital, their lives ebbing as the hospital waited for oxygen to be replenished on Saturday, day five of a crisis stemming from an acute shortage of oxygen imperilling critically-ill Covid patients in India's national capital.
Every few hours, as it has been for much of the week, hospitals across the city and its suburbs, including Ganga Ram and Max Healthcare as well as smaller facilities, sounded the alarm about dwindling stocks on social media and other platforms. Desperate for help, some hospitals approached the Delhi High Court, which termed the mounting cases a tsunami.
A day after 25 patients died at the Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the city's biggest and most high-profile health facilities, the court told the Delhi government to give it one instance of oxygen supply being obstructed and declared, "We will hang that man.”
"We will not spare anyone," the bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli added while hearing submissions by Maharaja Agrasen Hospital, Jaipur Golden Hospital, Batra Hospital and Saroj Super Speciality Hospital over the shortage of oxygen for treating seriously-ill COVID patients.
With the situation getting increasingly more desperate, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to his counterparts in other states, requesting for oxygen and saying the Centre was helping but the crisis was so severe that all available resources were proving to be inadequate.
The SOS messages from various hospitals ran in a loop as it were through the day, pointing to a recurring crisis with no immediate end as Delhi logged 24,331 fresh COVID-19 cases and 348 deaths on Friday, according to the latest health bulletin.
At the Jaipur Golden Hospital in southwest Delhi's Rohini locality, the worst fears had come true and fears were the disaster could repeat itself
“Next impending oxygen crisis in Jaipur Golden Hospital. Over 200 lives at stake if liquid medical oxygen is not supplied by 9:00 PM tonight,” the hospital tweeted at 7.15 pm.
Earlier in the morning as news came in of its 20 patients dying through the night, Medical Director D K Baluja told PTI, "Oxygen pressure has dipped as we are running out of stock."
Hospital officials added that over 80 per cent of the 200 patients in the hospital were on oxygen support and 35 were in the ICU.
At Ganga Ram hospital, authorities struggled to avoid a repeat of the earlier day's tragedy. The hospital requires a minimum of 11,000 cubic metres of oxygen daily but was left with just 200 cubic metres when a tanker with 1.5 tonnes of oxygen arrived at 11.35 am, officials said.
"Now it is at 0.7 tonnes, which will last for one hour only," hospital chairperson D S Rana said in a statement released around 2 pm.
"We are getting supplies of 500 to 1500 cubic meters only. We have 516 COVID patients, of which 129 are in ICU and 29 on invasive ventilation. These 29 patients are on manual ventilation since midnight due to scarcity of supplies. This can't go on for long, the staff is getting exhausted," he said.
“Hospital has and is approaching all authorities and nodal officers but no help is coming, Hundreds of calls made, nobody picking the calls," he added.
In a pincer effect, the shortage of oxygen and the explosion in the number of cases in Delhi together stretched healthcare infrastructure to its absolute limits, leaving hospitals big and small struggling and coming up with band aid solutions -- limited supplies to see them through for the next few hours before another SOS call.
Outside the hospitals, scenes of despair played out with queues of ambulances, frantic relatives and patients gasping for breath as they waited for help and hospitals, overwhelmed and helpless, tried to deal with the multiple emergencies at their doorstep.
The story found echo in hospital after hospital.
“We are running low on oxygen and using our back-up now. We have alerted our patients about the situation, and are advising them to shift to another hospital. Things are really uncertain," P K Bhardwaj, medical director, Saroj Super Speciality Hospital, a mid-sized hospital in Rohini, told PTI in the morning.
He said the hospital hadn't received an oxygen refill in 44 hours and that it has been getting just one metric tonne of oxygen instead of the three it needs.
Batra Hospital in Tughlakabad Institutional Area received emergency oxygen supply from the Delhi government moments after it exhausted its stock, officials said.
Executive Director Sudhanshu Bankata said the facility exhausted its oxygen stock around 9 am.
"We received an emergency supply from the Delhi government. It will last another one-and-a-half hours. Our supplier has not been responding to calls," he said.
There are around 350 patients admitted in the hospital, of which 265 are COVID-19 positive and 30 are in the ICU.
The Fortis Hospital in Shalimar Bagh also sent out a desperate appeal.
“#SOS Fortis Shalimar Bagh is running out of oxygen. Patients' lives are at risk. We are running on backup, waiting for supplies since morning. We are currently suspending admissions. Request immediate assistance,” the hospital tweeted at 12.28 pm, tagging the Prime Minister's Office and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal among others,.
“We are keeping patients and attendants informed of the critical situation and trying to manage admitted patients to the best of our abilities,” it added.
Moolchand Hospital, a big hospital in south Delhi, said at 7.05 am that it has less than two hours of oxygen supply left.
“We are desperate have tried all the nodal officer numbers but unable to connect. Have over 135 COVID pts with many on life support,” it tweeted.
In a ripple effect, Max Hospital in Gurgaon said it too was running out of oxygen
“SOS - Less than 2 hour's Oxygen supplies at Max Hospital Gurugram and attached Dedicated Covid Centre. Over 70 covid pts admitted across. Supplies expected at 10am diverted,” Max Healthcare said on Twitter at 11.20 am
The medical director of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Suresh Kumar said the facility's oxygen stock can last up to eight hours. It is likely to be a few days before the crisis is resolved, he said.
Some hospitals reduced their hospital beds.
The GTB Hospital cut the number of beds from 986 to 700 but did not ascribe any reason. On Friday, the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital had reduced beds from 600 to 350 citing oxygen shortage.
The high court on Saturday also asked the Centre when the 480 metric tonne (MT) of oxygen per day allocated for Delhi would see the light of the day.
The query came after the Delhi government said it was getting only 380 MT oxygen per day over the past few days and it received only around 300 MT on Friday.