People left to beg and barter for air as India’s COVID crisis becomes a frantic hunt for oxygen
The frantic hunt for oxygen is an ugly one at the epicentre of the world’s coronavirus pandemic.
There’s shouting. There’s pleading. There’s crying. And there’s death.
Dozens of vehicles were crammed into a narrow road outside a Sikh temple in the east of the Indian capital, New Delhi.
They were all full of sick or dying people desperate to get hold of oxygen.
Almost certainly, most of them should be in hospital receiving specialist treatment from trained professionals.
Instead, as India registered a new global record for the most number of infections in a day on Sunday – for the fourth day in a row – they were reduced to sucking air from bottles of oxygen on the street provided free by a Sikh charity.
Many arrived at the temple folded into a car seat or curled up at the rear of a rickshaw.
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Some were already unconscious, while others were bent over, working hard to draw breath.
Many of the parked vehicles had tubes hanging out of the windows, attached to huge tanks which are now people’s lifeline.
This wasn’t the site of a hospital. It wasn’t an official government-organised oxygen provider. This was a voluntary outfit run by the Sikh Khalsa Help International charity.
While hospitals in the capital raised the alarm over oxygen running out for the seventh day running, people were racing to volunteers who had managed to source small amounts of oxygen.
“I don’t know what the government is doing,” said founder Gurpreet Singh. “If we can do this, why can’t they?”
It is a fair enough question many people across India are asking about these entrepreneurial outfits which are managing to do whatever they can to help their fellow Indians.
For citizens who are feeling for the most part abandoned during this overwhelming second COVID-19 wave, any help is being hungrily grasped with some gratitude.
Siddiqui Ahmad had brought his 32-year-old son to beg for air. “He’s been turned away from everywhere,” his mother sobbed to us. “No one would help.”
Indians across the country have been reduced to bartering, begging for or borrowing air.
The couple’s son, Abu Sadat, is looking very weak and motionless in the back of the tut tut they have arrived in. Siddiqui is pleading with the over-pressed volunteers to tend to him – and quickly.
They jump into action and drag an oxygen tank to him and hook him up. His parents breathe gulps of relief as their son finally has the best chance of survival in more than eight days – but it is short-lived.
Within minutes there’s a panic as he seems to lapse into unconsciousness. His younger brother Faraz is busy pumping his chest to try to jerk him back into life. Abu Sadat is looking very dazed, very weak but he is alive and with the oxygen mask firmly fixed on his face.
His brother keeps on slapping his cheeks, trying to make him more alert. They – like all the families here – don’t want to lose any more loved ones to this deadly disease. They’re fighting but there’s a growing feeling they are being left to fight this virus without the tools to do it.