India to Form Oxygen Plan 05/05 06:34

India to Form Oxygen Plan     05/05 06:34

   India's government, facing calls for a strict coronavirus lockdown to slow 
the devastating surge in infections, was ordered by the top court Wednesday to 
submit a plan on meeting New Delhi hospitals' oxygen requirements within a day.

   NEW DELHI (AP) -- India's government, facing calls for a strict coronavirus 
lockdown to slow the devastating surge in infections, was ordered by the top 
court Wednesday 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 2-week-old 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.

   It stayed the contempt notice issued to the government by a lower New Delhi 
High Court for defying its order on supplying adequate oxygen to more than 40 
New Delhi hospitals. The government officials found guilty could have faced six 
months in prison or a fine.

   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, which had summoned two Home Ministry 
officials for a hearing 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.

   "You can put your head in the sand like an ostrich, we will not. We are not 
going to take no for an answer," Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said.

   Raghav Chaddha, a spokesman for the Aam Aadmi Party governing New Delhi, 
said hospitals were getting only 40% of their 700 metric tons (772 U.S. tons) 
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.

   Dileep Kumar, a student, said he was asked by hospital authorities to shift 
his father to another hospital in Ghaziabad, a town on the outskirts of New 
Delhi, after it ran out of oxygen on Tuesday.

   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."

   Modi's government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown for fear of the 
economic fallout. Modi said last month that it should be the last resort.

   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.

   The global community is extending a helping hand. The United States, 
Britain, Germany and several other nations are rushing therapeutics, rapid 
virus tests and oxygen to India, along with some materials needed for India to 
boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines.

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