On Friday, while the Delhi High Court was hearing the matter of allocation of medical oxygen by the Centre, the court asked a counsel if his brother-in-law, a Covid-19 patient, had been allotted an ICU bed. But the counsel told the court: “The help isn’t needed anymore. He just passed away.”

This is just one instance, but across the city, patients have scrambled beds in private as well as publicly run hospitals as Covid-19 cases have surged to soaring heights. For nearly two weeks, Delhi has reported over 20,000 cases daily. On Friday, it recorded 27,047 cases, making the total number of active cases to nearly a lakh.

When the cases began to rise, patients called hospitals but in vain, after which their patients went to hospitals only to be turned back. With Delhi’s hospitals overwhelmed, several ambulances have driven patients outstation to cities like Jaipur, Chandigarh and Lucknow, reported Indian Express.

With nowhere to turn and desperate for help, several relatives and patients have put their pleas and SOS requests for beds on social media, especially Twitter. These requests have inundated social media feed and users on these platforms have doubled up as volunteers to amplify pleas for beds, oxygen and medical supplies.

But this is not sustainable and cannot replace a system for bed allocation run by the government, said health activists.

So despite the high number of infections, why is there still no centralised system for bed allocation in Delhi?

No system

Currently, Delhi does not have a specific system in place to allot beds unlike Mumbai, where each of the 24 municipal wards has a war room run by school teachers dedicated to processing requests for beds from patients and uses triaging as a strict measure to allocate resources.

The only way to check availability of hospital beds in the capital is through the Delhi government-run website Delhi Fights Corona which lists the number of occupied and vacant beds in private and public hospitals.

But several health activists in the city said the website was redundant as the status of beds was not regularly updated, and that it did not serve a purpose beyond that.

Sometimes the information on the dashboard of the website was outdated, said Malini Aisola of the All India Drug Action Network.

“If you call that hospital they will say those beds are not there,” said Aisola. “That means it’s showing wrong information,” she said. “The updates are not happening in real time. And all of this is costing lives because people are having to run to hospital in critical conditions.”

Aisola is among the few public health professionals that form a part of the Covid Citizen Action Group, that fields requests from patients for beds, oxygen and medication.

Over the past two weeks, the group has been inundated with requests for beds on a daily basis. And this was unlike anything that happened last year, she said. “There is no end in sight,” she said. “We have not even reached a peak. The health system in Delhi has already collapsed.”

The lack of availability of beds also meant that several patients were not getting the kind of beds they needed according to their treatment.

“In the last three days, we have been in a situation where there has been no oxygen which means no oxygen beds, or ICU with oxygen beds,” said Jeevika Shiv, a lawyer and public health professional. “There is no system to address what is happening,” she said.

The Delhi government has appointed a nodal officer to each hospital in the city to help with Covid-19 admissions. Scroll.in contacted the officers designated for the ten Delhi government-run hospitals but only one of them picked up.

This too was not a sustainable way to allocate beds, activists said.

“For everything there is a nodal officer but what support do these officers have?” asked Inayat Singh Kakar, a health activist and researcher in Delhi. “How much authority do they have? Is it humanly possible for one person to pick thousands of calls? Is there any coordination system among them?”

Scroll.in contacted officials in the Delhi government’s health department as well as the government’s spokesperson to ask how bed allocation worked in the city. But none of them responded to calls or text messages.

Existing infrastructure

Last year, Delhi saw a surge in infections with cases going as high as 8,000 cases per day. But as the number of cases dipped at the start of the year, the government dismantled existing infrastructure of additional beds in February.

Among them were a 10,000-bedded facility by Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Radha Soami Beas Complex with another 10,000 beds and smaller facilities in Dhaula Kuan and Commonwealth Games Complex, according to Indian Express.

Some of these have been revived and the government stated that it would add 1,200 oxygen beds by May 10. Out of this, 500 oxygen beds will be established at Ramlila Maidan and 500 oxygen beds will be added in GTB Hospital, reported The Hindu. An additional 200 ICU beds will be added at the Radha Soami Satsang Beas facility, the report stated.

In addition, at least 1,875 oxygen beds and 230 ICU beds have been added to hospitals run by the Central government in the city, according to a press release by the Union health ministry.

Moreover, 500 ICU beds were made operational at a facility run by the Defence Research and Development Organisation on April 19, the release stated. The railways ministry has also provided a total of 75 coaches with 1,200 isolation beds at two different stations.

But clearly the infrastructure continues to fall short. Even journalists, among the best informed and well networked citizens in Delhi, continue to post appeals on Twitter asking for hospital beds.