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India’s Modi loses key state election as Delhi’s oxygen crisis turns toxic

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) participate in an election rally ahead of the third phase of West Bengal state elections in Kolkata, India, Monday, April 5, 2021.
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) participate in an election rally ahead of the third phase of West Bengal state elections in Kolkata, India, Monday, April 5, 2021. AP - Bikas Das

Patchy oxygen supplies have killed 37 patients in two Delhi hospitals in recent days as the devastation of a record-breaking spike in Covid-19 cases continues. Amid the nationwide health crisis, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi was dealt a blow as he lost a key state election in results declared on Sunday. 

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Twelve critically-ill patients died in Delhi’s Batra hospital on the weekend after the facility’s oxygen supply went flat. The hospital told courts 230 patients were without oxygen for 80 minutes.

Just days before, 25 patients perished in another oxygen-starved city hospital even as oxygen-generation plants from donors including Britain, France and Germany reached India, which is setting daily world records in new infections.

Oxygen punch-up                                            

Delhi’s elected chief minister blamed the national government for the shortage that also reached two hospitals for newborns in the city of 20 million.

"SOS is coming from all hospitals,” said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “We've spoken in courts and written to the Centre that Delhi requires 976 tons of oxygen daily but we've been allotted only 490 tons of oxygen...How will this work?" he said, before claiming the actual supply was even lower.

The national government blamed Kejriwal in a bid to quash his claims.

India’s Supreme Court ordered authorities to resolve the emergency by Monday midnight after it heard distress messages from five hospitals of Delhi, which reported over 400 Covid deaths for the second straight day on Sunday.

The capital has logged 1.1 million coronavirus cases and 16,559 deaths but experts say the actual figures could be vastly higher.

The court also ordered an oxygen “buffer stock” within four days in India, which posted 368,147 new infections on Monday that steered the national tally closer to 20 million cases.

"We direct the central government in collaboration with the states to prepare a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes to ensure supply lines continue to function even in unforeseen circumstances,” a three-judge bench said.

The ruling came as 24 patients died without oxygen in a hospital in Karnataka, the Indian Express daily quoted officials as saying in the state’s Chamarajanagar district.

South Asia takes cover

Other South Asian nations were also grappling with the pandemic with shortages at the doorsteps of their crowded hospitals.

Nepal on Sunday posted a record single-day surge of 7,137 cases which took the tally of the Himalayan nation to 336,030 cases and 3,325 deaths.

"Infections have surged beyond the capacity of the health system," its health ministry said in capital Kathmandu.

Sri Lanka imposed travel restrictions after reporting an all-time record for coronavirus cases on Sunday, clocking 1,800 fresh infections which took the island nation’s numbers to 111,753 and 696 deaths so far.

Indian millionaires who dashed off on private jets to the Maldives were being restricted to a resort or safari boats to prevent infection from spreading in the Indian Ocean honeymoon paradise.

Pakistan said it ordered travel restrictions after detecting various Covid strains in the commercial hub of Karachi.

Modi’s political slip

Back in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party could just win 77 seats in the 294-seat West Bengal state assembly despite an aggressive election campaign amid the surging pandemic.

Experts blamed the national Election Commission for allowing extravagant road shows where crowds flouted health norms even as cases rose in the state of 90 million.

“Covid will be my top priority,” said incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who won a two-thirds majority and was set to retain office for a third five-year term.

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