As he spoke, several small hospitals – only a few miles from where he stood in the capital – were sending out desperate messages about them running out of oxygen, putting patients’ lives at risk.
The chief doctor of one of the hospitals – a specialist pediatric facility – told that “our hearts were in our mouths” because of the risk of children dying. They got supplies just in time, after a local politician intervened.
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And yet, the federal government has repeatedly insisted that there was no shortage. “We are only facing problems in its transportation,” Piyush Goyal, a senior official from India’s home ministry, said.
He also advised hospitals to “ensure judicious use of oxygen as per the guidelines”. Several doctors who have spoken to the say they are giving oxygen only to patients who need it, but there is not enough.
But experts say that the shortage of oxygen is just one of the problems which show the Indian government was not prepared, having failed to do enough to stop or minimize the damage of the second wave. Warnings have in fact been repeatedly issued, including:
In November, a parliamentary standing committee on health said there was an inadequate supply of oxygen and “grossly inadequate” government hospital beds
In February, several experts told the BBC they feared an impending ‘Covid tsunami’
In early March, an expert group of scientists, set up by the government, warned officials about a more contagious variant of coronavirus spreading in the country – only for no significant containment measures to be taken, one scientist from the group told the BBC. The government has not made any comment on the allegations
Despite this, on 8 March, the country’s health minister announced that India was in the “endgame of the pandemic”. So, where did it go so wrong?