Volunteers provide oxygen as India’s COVID-19 cases near 20 million

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3 May 2021

India’s tally of coronavirus infections rose on Monday to just short of 20 million, propelled by a 12th straight day of more than 300,000 new cases, as scientists predicted the pandemic could peak in the next couple of days, APA reports citing Reuters.

Total infections since the start of the pandemic have reached 19.93 million, swelled by 368,147 new cases over the past 24 hours, while the death toll rose by 3,417 to 218,959, health ministry data show. At least 3.4 million people are currently being treated.

But medical experts say actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.

Hositals have filled to capacity, supply of medical oxygen has run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped as the country grapples with the surge. Patients are dying on hospital beds, in ambulances and in carparks outside.

“Every time we have to struggle to get our quota of our oxygen cylinders,” said B.H. Narayan Rao, a district official in the southern town of Chamarajanagar, where 24 COVID-19 patients died, some from a suspected shortage of oxygen supplies.

"It's a day-to-day fight," added Rao, as he described the hectic scramble for supplies.

In many cases, volunteer groups have come to the rescue.

Outside a temple in the capital, New Delhi, a group of Sikh volunteers is providing oxygen to patients lying on benches inside makeshift tents, hooked up to a giant cylinder. Every 20 minutes or so, a new patient comes in.

"No one should die because of a lack of oxygen. It's a small thing otherwise, but nowadays, it is the one thing every one needs," Gurpreet Singh Rummy, who runs the service, told Reuters. He called it an oxygen "langar", the word used by Sikhs for a communal free kitchen.

Offering a glimmer of hope, the health ministry said positive cases relative to the number of tests fell on Monday for the first time since at least April 15.

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