Lifesaving oxygen aid arrives in India as Covid-19 death toll hits new record

A relative helps a man sitting in the back of a motorised rickshaw receive oxygen for his Covid-19 symptoms, in Delhi, India, on April 25, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW DELHI (AFP) - More emergency medical aid from foreign donors to alleviate a dire oxygen shortage arrived in India on Sunday (May 2), as Covid-19 deaths in the South Asian nation rose to a new record.

India is setting almost-daily records for new infections and deaths as the virus crisis engulfs overstretched hospitals in cities and spreads into rural regions.

The country of 1.3 billion reported 3,689 deaths on Sunday - the highest single-day rise yet in the pandemic, to take the overall toll to 215,542.

Just under 400,000 infections were added, bringing the total number of cases past 19.5 million.

The latest figures came as medical equipment, including oxygen-generation plants, was flown into the capital New Delhi from France and Germany as part of a huge international effort.

"We are here because we are bringing help that... will save lives," Germany's ambassador to India, Walter J. Lindner, said as 120 ventilators arrived late Saturday.

"Out there the hospitals are full. People are sometimes dying in front of the hospitals. They have no more oxygen. Sometimes (they are dying) in their cars." French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said his country wanted to show solidarity with India.

"The epidemic is still going on in one country. The world won't be safe until we are all safe. So it's a matter of urgency," he said early Sunday following the delivery of eight oxygen-generation plants and dozens of ventilators from France.

There are growing fears about the surge of the virus in rural regions where health infrastructure is already patchy and limited.

Hospitals in Delhi have continued to issue SOS calls for oxygen on social media, with the latest appeal posted by a children's hospital on Twitter on Sunday.

The plea came a day after up to a dozen patients died at a Delhi hospital amid an oxygen shortage, local media reported.

India on Saturday opened up its inoculation drive to all adults, but supplies are running low and only online enrolments are allowed for those aged under 45.

People with breathing problem receive oxygen support for free outside a Gurudwara (Sikh temple), amid the spread of Covid-19 in Ghaziabad, India, on April 30, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

"It is a necessity now. We are seeing so many people testing positive," data scientist Megha Srivastava, 35, told AFP outside a Delhi vaccination centre as she waited for her shot.

"We are coming from 20km away as this was the only place available."

Experts have called on the government to allow more flexibility in the vaccine roll-out, particularly in poorer rural areas where there is lower internet penetration.

Medical supplies from France being loaded into a cargo plane to be sent to India, at Roissy airport, Paris, on May 1, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

"We should procure sufficient vaccines, then plan bottom-up through... the primary health centre level," Bangalore-based public health expert Hemant Shewade told AFP.

"Take vaccines to the people the way we have implemented our polio and measles campaigns."

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