Indian hospitals desperate for oxygen as coronavirus cases top 5 million

Global cases are rapidly approaching 30 million, with more than 930,000 known Covid-19 deaths. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

Indian hospitals desperate for oxygen as coronavirus cases top 5 million

  • India, home to 1.3 billion people, has reported some of the highest daily case jumps in the world recently
  • The spread of the virus has accelerated in some of the most populous parts of the world such as India

MUMBAI: Coronavirus infections in India surged past 5 million on Wednesday, piling pressure on hospitals grappling with unreliable supplies of oxygen that they need to treat tens of thousands of critical patients.
In the big states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, some of the areas worst-affected by the virus, demand for oxygen has more than tripled, doctors and government officials said, 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.
Meanwhile, a senior minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet, Nitin Gadkari, also tested positive for the coronavirus infection, he said in a tweet.
"I request everyone who has come in my contact to be careful and follow the protocol," Gadkari said.
The Indian parliament has re-opened after six months on Monday, with at least 17 members testing positive.
Gadkari is part of the 245-strong upper house of parliament, known as the Rajya Sabha, where it was not yet clear how many members were also infected.
Home Monister Amit Shah spent most of August in hospital after being detected with COVID-19.
The health ministry reported 90,123 new infections on Wednesday, taking the total caseload to 5.02 million.
The death toll from COVID-19 is now at 82,066, the ministry said, with 1,290 fatalities recorded in the previous 24 hours.
India has the world's fastest growing novel 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 United States.
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.
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.
Ravindra Khade Patil, a doctor who manages two private hospitals on the outskirts of Mumbai in Maharashtra state, spoke of the stress he faces trying to ensure he can supply his patients with oxygen.
Two days ago, the supplier of oxygen to his hospitals did not turn up at his usual time.
Patil made frantic calls to the supplier and then to nearby hospitals and lawmakers, knowing that if the oxygen did not arrive on time, 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. Every day, we are worried if we will be able to meet our requirements, if the oxygen will arrive or not," Patil told Reuters.


Amal Clooney quits UK envoy post over Brexit bill

Updated 3 min 29 sec ago

Amal Clooney quits UK envoy post over Brexit bill

  • The government argues it is needed to protect the country’s territorial integrity in case the EU seeks to unfairly impede trade with Northern Ireland
  • Clooney became the third lawyer to part ways with Johnson’s government after it introduced the legislation

LONDON: Prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney on Friday resigned her post as a UK envoy for media freedom, in protest at the government’s “lamentable” decision to breach its EU divorce treaty.
Clooney became the third lawyer to part ways with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, after it introduced legislation that would rewrite its post-Brexit obligations to the European Union over Northern Ireland.
Undermining the rule of law “threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world,” she wrote in a letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and seen by AFP.
“Although the government has suggested that the violation of international law would be ‘specific and limited’, it is lamentable for the UK to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the prime minister less than a year ago.”
On her appointment to the UK role in April 2019, Clooney had said she welcomed the opportunity to build on her legal defense of persecuted journalists by working with the government to champion a free press around the world.
“I accepted the role because I believe in the importance of the cause, and appreciate the significant role that the UK has played and can continue to play in promoting the international legal order,” she wrote.
“However, very sadly, it has now become untenable for me, as special envoy, to urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations while the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself.”
While conceding the UK internal market bill violates the EU Withdrawal Agreement, the government argues it is needed to protect the country’s territorial integrity in case the EU seeks to unfairly impede trade with Northern Ireland.
The argument has failed to persuade two other jurists who have quit their government roles recently including its most senior law officer for Scotland, Richard Keen.
He said in his resignation letter to Johnson he had “found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what I consider to be my obligations as a law officer with your policy intentions with respect to the UKIM bill.”
After quelling one backbench revolt over the legislation and under pressure to make its intent clearer, the government on Thursday issued a document spelling out various scenarios in which the bill’s provisions would be executed.
But in an apparent olive branch to Brussels, the document said the government would also seek to resolve post-Brexit disputes with the EU in “appropriate formal dispute settlement mechanisms,” not unilaterally.
The document was released as the chief negotiators for EU-UK trade talks met in Brussels, to try again to avoid a potentially ruinous breakdown when a post-Brexit transition period expires at the end of this year.

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