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As India’s coronavirus caseload surpasses 5 million, some hospitals in the country are dealing with unreliable supplies of oxygen needed to treat tens of thousands of critical patients. In the worst-affected states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, demand has more than tripled, prompting urgent calls for help. “Desperate patients have been calling me through

As India’s coronavirus caseload surpasses 5 million, some hospitals in the country are dealing with unreliable supplies of oxygen needed to treat tens of thousands of critical patients.

In the worst-affected states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, demand has more than tripled, prompting urgent calls for help.

“Desperate patients have been calling me through the night but I don’t know when I will get stock,” Rishikhesh Patil, an oxygen supplier in the western city of Nashik, told Reuters.

India has the world’s fastest growing coronavirus epidemic and added its last million infections in just 12 days. It is only the second country in the world to have more than 5 million cases, after the US.

A worker refills an oxygen cylinder at a hospital in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, on Tuesday.

A worker refills an oxygen cylinder at a hospital in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, on Tuesday. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

At least 6% of India’s nearly 1 million active cases need oxygen support, health ministry official Rajesh Bhushan told reporters. Supplies were adequate but state governments should monitor usage and flag shortages, he said.

“The problem happens at a facility level if there is no inventory management. Every state should ensure this,” Bhushan said.

In the capital of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the total requirement of oxygen cylinders stood at 5,000 cylinders compared with 1,000 cylinders in normal times, a government official said. Meanwhile, an official in Maharashtra said the state had decided to reduce supply to neighbouring states to meet its growing demand.

Ravindra Khade Patil, a doctor who manages two private hospitals on the outskirts of Mumbai, said that two days ago his oxygen supplier did not turn up at the usual time.

Patil made frantic calls to the supplier and then to nearby hospitals and lawmakers, knowing that if the oxygen didn’t arrive soon, it would be too late for some of his most critical patients.

Finally, past midnight, thanks to pressure from a government official, the oxygen tanks arrived.

“If they had arrived even a couple of hours late, we could have lost five or six patients,” Patil told Reuters.

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