India’s highest court has ordered the government to submit a plan on meeting New Delhi hospitals’ oxygen requirements within a day.
The Supreme Court decided against immediately punishing officials for failing to end a two-week long erratic supply of oxygen to overstretched hospitals.
“Ultimately putting officers in jail or hauling officers for contempt will not bring oxygen. Please tell us steps to solve this,” Justice Chandrachud said during the hearing.
With 382,315 new confirmed cases, India’s tally has risen to more than 20.6 million since the pandemic began.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 3,780 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 226,188. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
On Tuesday, the New Delhi High Court court, which had summoned two Home Ministry officials for a hearing on Wednesday, said that the grim reality is that hospitals are reducing the number of beds and asking patients to move elsewhere.
The court is hearing petitions filed by several hospitals and nursing homes struggling with irregular oxygen supplies.
Raghav Chaddha, a spokesman for the Aam Aadmi Party governing New Delhi, said hospitals were getting only 40% of their 700 metric ton requirements through the federal government, and the local government was arranging additional supplies to meet the shortfall and setting up new oxygen plants.
The latest wave of infections since April has pushed India’s health care to the brink with people begging for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds on social media and news channels.
Bodies have been piling up at cremation grounds and in graveyards with relatives waiting for hours for the last rites.
Authorities are scrambling to add more beds, sending oxygen from one corner of the country to another, and scaling up manufacturing of the few drugs effective against Covid-19.
Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said this week “a lockdown is now the only option because of a complete lack of strategy by the Indian government”.
But nearly a dozen states have imposed curbs on their own.
The most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, with 200 million people, implemented a five-day lockdown this week. The country’s second and third most populated states of Maharashtra and Bihar are also under lockdown with varying curbs.
Efforts to scale up the vaccination drive are hampered by the shortage of doses. India, a country of 1.4 billion, has so far administered 160 million doses.