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India hits another dire record in COVID-19 outbreak with 3,980 deaths in a day

Daily caseload of infections again reaches over 400,000 as country scrambles for oxygen supplies, with demand jumping sevenfold

Family members of COVID-19 victims leave as their funeral pyres burn at an open crematorium set up at a granite quarry on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, May 5, 2021. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)
Family members of COVID-19 victims leave as their funeral pyres burn at an open crematorium set up at a granite quarry on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, May 5, 2021. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Infections in India hit another grim daily record on Thursday as demand for medical oxygen jumped sevenfold and the government denied reports that it was slow in distributing life-saving supplies from abroad.

The number of new confirmed cases breached 400,000 for the second time since the devastating surge began last month. The 412,262 cases pushed India’s tally to more than 21 million. The Health Ministry also reported 3,980 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 230,168. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

Eleven COVID-19 patients died as the pressure in the oxygen line dropped suddenly in a government medical college hospital in Chengalpet town in southern India on Wednesday night, possibly because of a faulty valve, The Times of India newspaper reported.

Hospital authorities said they had repaired the pipeline last week, but the consumption of oxygen doubled since then, the daily said.

Demand for hospital oxygen has increased seven times since last month, a government official said, as India scrambles to set up large oxygen plants and transport cryogenic tankers, cylinders, and liquid oxygen. India created a sea bridge on Tuesday to ferry oxygen tankers from Bahrain and Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, officials said.

COVID-19 patients receive oxygen outside a Gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. (Amit Sharma/AP)

Most hospitals in India aren’t equipped with independent plants that generate oxygen directly for patients, As a result, hospitals typically rely on liquid oxygen, which can be stored in cylinders and transported in cryogenic tankers. But amid the surge, supplies in hard-hit places like New Delhi are running critically short.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said India has enough liquid oxygen but it’s facing capacity constraints in moving it. Most oxygen is produced in the eastern parts of India while the demand has risen in northern and western parts.

K. Vijay Raghvan, a principal scientific adviser to the government, said this phase of the pandemic was “a very critical time for the country.”

The United States, Britain, Germany and several other nations are rushing therapeutics, rapid virus tests and oxygen, along with materials needed to boost domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines to ease pressure on the fragile health infrastructure. Israel is also sending medical supplies, ventilators, and other equipment.

India’s vaccine production is expected to get a boost with the United States supporting a waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccine components from the US that had arrived in India will enable the manufacturing of 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said Daniel B. Smith, the most senior diplomat at the embassy in New Delhi.

Last month, Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, appealed to US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on US export of raw materials, which, he said, was affecting its production of COVID-19 shots.

Workers load medical aid onto an Air India plane to be flown to India, at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, May 4, 2021. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP)

The Indian government meanwhile described as “totally misleading” Indian media reports that it took seven days for it to come up with a procedure for distributing urgent medical supplies that started arriving on April 25.

The statement said that a streamlined and systematic mechanism for allocation of the supplies received by India has been put in place for effective distribution. The Indian Red Cross Society is involved in distributing supplies from abroad, it said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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