India coronavirus cases: why are hospitals low on oxygen, and how do infections compare to other countries?

Hospitals have struggled to deal with the scale of new infections, with the spread blamed on a new mutant strain of the virus.

Indian hospitals have raised the alarm after patients with coronavirus died overnight due to low oxygen supply.

Following a huge spike in Covid infections in India, twenty people at the Jaipur Golden Hospital in Delhi are reported to have died overnight due to a lack of oxygen supplies.

Why are hospitals running out of oxygen?

A worker fills medical oxygen cylinders to be transported to hospitals amid Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic at a facility on the outskirts of Chennai.

Coronavirus infections have spun out of control in India, where almost a million cases have been recorded over a three day period - with 346,786 recorded overnight into Saturday, April 24.

The discovery of a ‘double mutant’ strain of coronavirus has been blamed for the sudden spike in infections, with the strain of concern due to the fact that it has two spike proteins instead of one.

It’s believed the strain may be more transmissible than others, and there are fears that vaccines could be less effective against it - though this is yet to be confirmed.

At the start of the year, India appeared to have the virus under control.

Some have suggested that the government were not adequately prepared for a fresh outbreak, with others blaming a quick re-opening after lockdown for the surge.

India’s hospitals were also ill-prepared for another wave of the virus, with many overrun quickly, running out of drugs, tests, beds and now, oxygen.

Why is the oxygen needed?

Coronavirus can cause a sudden drop in a person’s oxygen levels, leading to hypoxia, which can be fatal.

Sometimes this drop can occur without a patient even noticing, leading to people arriving at hospital with dangerously low levels of oxygen in their blood.

As such, one of the ways coronavirus is treated in hospital is by administering oxygen to get a patient’s levels back to normal.

What is being done to resolve the situation?

A number of hospitals across Delhi have put out desperate calls asking for oxygen supplies, with Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal pleading for oxygen on live TV on Friday, April 23.

"All of the country's oxygen plants should immediately be taken over by the government through the army," he said.

The government has said it is deploying the airforce and trains to transport oxygen supplies to the worst-hit areas, but some hospitals say it is not coming quick enough to save lives.

Some families with relatives in hospital have taken to appealing for oxygen on social media, desperate for help for their loved ones.

A virologist from Vellore in southern India, Gagandeep Kang, told BBC news more action would be needed to halt the spread of the virus.

"We need to ensure that there are no non-essential activities taking place... All of that really needs to stop," she told them.

How does India compare to other countries?

India has become a new epicentre for the virus, though there are a handful of countries experiencing similar surges in case numbers.

According to Our World in Data, over the past two weeks (to April 23), India’s cases have risen by 162 per cent, a figure matched exactly by the Central African Republic, where cases have also risen 162 per cent in the past two weeks.

Over the same time period, cases in Suriname, South America, have shot up 277 per cent, while in Thailand, cases have gone up by 743 per cent in the past two weeks.