India Covid crisis: Hospitals struggle to cope after record cases

Last updated at 05:30
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WATCH: BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan gives an update on India and the coronavirus

India's healthcare system is in trouble as a record rise in Covid-19 cases puts pressure on hospital beds and drains oxygen supplies.

The capital, Delhi, is one of the worst-hit areas, with many hospitals full and many refusing to take new admissions because of uncertainty over supplies for treating those who are ill.

Oxygen-equipped ambulances are in short supply and it's becoming difficult for families to transport patients to hospitals even if they find a bed.

What is being done to try and help?

Some travel restrictions have been introduced because of fears over rising infection numbers in neighbouring countries.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also urged people to get vaccinated, saying "this storm has shaken the nation".

Some states have imposed lockdown orders, including the capital Delhi, and the Prime Minster is under pressure to call a lockdown nationwide, but he says this will only be done as a last resort.

The US, UK, France, Australia, Germany and other countries have reached out to India, following the huge rise in the number of cases.

Boris-JohnsonGetty Images
Mr Johnson had been due to visit India but cancelled his trip after the situation there worsened

The UK is one of the countries offering support, sending equipment to help support the struggling health services there.

In the US, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the country was "working closely with Indian officials at both political and experts level to identify ways to help address the crisis".

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Ricky's been speaking to these British Indian children talk how about coronavirus is affecting their families in India

Last week a record of 412,262 single-day infections was set, putting it at the centre of the pandemic, which has been lessening in many other countries.

Journalists in some cities have challenged official figures, with some estimating that the number of people who have died from the virus is much higher than what is being reported.

Why are cases so high in India?
Hindu devotees take a holy dip in the waters of Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers to mark Mauni Amavasya, the most auspicious day during the annual religious festival of Magh Mela, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Prayagraj, India, February 11, 2021.Reuters
Hindu devotees gathered for the Kumbh Mela earlier this month as Covid cases dropped

Cases have skyrocketed during India's second wave for a number of reasons.

Health and safety rules, such as social distancing and wearing masks, have not been strictly enforced throughout the country.

Millions of people also attended a Hindu festival, the Kumbh Mela in April with a mass dip in the River Ganges.

This would have increased the chance of the virus spreading due to the amount of people in close contact with each other.

In 20 years of working in intensive care, I have never seen anything of this kind, ever.

Dr Saswati Sinha, Critical care doctor in Kolkata

New versions of the virus have also appeared, which is thought to be speeding up how quickly it can be passed from person to person.

Dr Saswati Sinha, who works in the eastern city of Kolkata, said emergency rooms and wards were packed full. Some patients are having to share beds because it is so busy.

"We are getting direct calls from our patients, our acquaintances, our neighbours: they are pleading with us to be able to accommodate some of their next of kin. But unfortunately, our situation is such that, although we are trying our best, we still have a huge number of patients whom we are not able to accommodate," she told the BBC.

Oxygen crisis in Indian hospitals
Worker arranges oxygen cylinders for transport to hospital in Hyderabad, India (23 April)Getty Images
Hospitals are struggling to get enough oxygen for Covid patients

One of the main affects of Covid-19 is that it can infect someone's lungs.

Damaged lungs are less effective at allowing oxygen (O2) breathed in through the air to be transported into the bloodstream and round the body.

So when people are admitted to hospital with Covid-19, they're given medical oxygen to increase the amount of O2 in the lungs and the blood to try and help people recover.

However, Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in India, doesn't have enough oxygen.

Three other states - Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana - are also facing a critical shortage.

This is because hospitals are struggling to deal with the huge numbers of people coming in for treatment all at once.

The Indian Air Force is being used to lift oxygen tankers and supplies to different parts of the country.

Relatives of Covid patients have been queuing up in cities to refill cylindersGetty Images
Relatives of Covid patients have been queuing up in cities to refill cylinders

Typically, healthcare facilities use up about 15% of oxygen supply, leaving the rest for industrial use.

But it's thought that during India's second wave nearly 90% of the country's oxygen supply is being taken up for medical use.

That's nearly three times higher than at the peak of the first wave in mid-September last year.

Can people travel from the UK to India?
A medic tests a bus passenger in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on ThursdayGetty Images

India has joined the UK's travel red list - effectively banning travel - as a second wave of infections sweeps the country.

British and Irish nationals can travel to the UK from India, but they must now isolate in a government-approved hotel for 10 days when they arrive.

Travel to the UK is banned for all others who have been in red-list countries in the past 10 days.

There are 40 countries on the government's red list across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.

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