Growing calls for more oxygen, beds as India virus crisis deepens

New Delhi (AFP) –


More government hospital beds will be freed for Covid-19 patients, India's health ministry said Sunday, as the vast nation grappled with a worsening virus crisis and states appealed for additional supplies of oxygen and treatment drugs.

The country of 1.3 billion people added a record-high of 261,500 new cases on Sunday, with one-in-six people who underwent tests returning positive coronavirus results, the ministry said.

India is the world's second most-infected nation with almost 14.8 million cases.

Hospitals usually reserved for employees of ministries or public sector companies should convert some of their wards into Covid-19 facilities equipped with ICU and oxygen-supported beds, ventilators, laboratories and healthcare staff, the government said.

"This will go a long way to address the shortage of beds being reported from some states," the ministry added.

The railway ministry said special trains would transport oxygen tankers to needy states.

In the capital New Delhi -- the worst-hit city in India -- 25,500 infections were reported in the past 24 hours.

"The cases are rising very fast," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a video statement.

"Only 100 beds left. Even oxygen is in short supply."

Kejriwal said additional beds would be set up at some schools and a sport complex.

His government added that millions of pilgrims who attended an ongoing religious festival -- the Kumbh Mela -- had to quarantine for two weeks if they returned to Delhi.

Nearly 3,700 people have tested positive in the past week in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the Ganges river where the Kumbh Mela is being observed, the Uttarakhand state government said.

Health experts have warned the festival could become a "super-spreader" event.

In West Bengal state, where an election is being held over several phases with rival parties holding huge rallies -- sparking further super-spreader fears -- Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for more oxygen and coronavirus medicines such as remdesivir.

Banerjee added that her state needed more vaccines to tackle the outbreak. India has administered more than 122 million jabs so far, but some states have complained of low stocks and experts have said that the rollout needs to be sped up.

Both Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party held large election campaigns on Sunday.

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party, a small player in the West Bengal polls, tweeted Sunday that he was suspending all his rallies in the state "in view of the covid situation".