The Delhi government on Tuesday said the Capital was facing an acute shortage of medical oxygen for coronavirus patients as rising infections and deaths amid a second wave of the pandemic is quickly filling up the city’s hospitals.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that nearly all the major private and government hospitals in Delhi are going to run out of oxygen in the next eight to 12 hours. Prominent facilities such as the Max Hospital and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital also said that oxygen is in short supply.

“We have been demanding for one week to increase the oxygen supply quota to Delhi, which the central government has to do,” Sisodia wrote on Twitter. “If oxygen does not reach the hospitals in sufficient quantity by tomorrow morning, there will be an outcry.”

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal too urged the Centre to address the serious oxygen crisis in Delhi. “Some hospitals are left with just a few hours of oxygen,” he wrote. On Sunday, Kejriwal had alleged that the Centre had redirected the city’s oxygen quota to other states.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Delhi High Court asked the Centre why it was waiting till April 22 to ban the use of oxygen in industries amid the severe shortage in the national Capital. “Industries can wait. Patients cannot. Human lives are at stake,” the court said.

The bench then directed the Centre to implement the ban immediately, saying “any delay will lead to loss of precious lives”.

The Delhi High Court bench also noted the Centre’s submission that steel plants produce a lot of oxygen and asked whether the government was getting supplies from them. “I think the steel and petroleum industries are the real guzzlers – which is why they are producing and consuming more oxygen – because if people keep dying the way they are dying, what is the point of producing more for the economy?” Justice Sanghi asked, according to Live Law.

“You [Centre] mentioned that steel plants produce a lot of oxygen, so are you getting oxygen from them?”

Oxygen shortage

India is currently reeling under an unprecedented second wave of the pandemic, reporting its largest surge of infections since the outbreak was first reported in the country January last year. The sheer number of infections – and the speed at which the virus is spreading – has left the country’s healthcare system in shambles.

Several states across the country are running out of oxygen as coronavirus patients crowd its overburdened hospitals. Hospitalised Covid-19 patients who are seriously ill often need supplemental oxygen to increase its supply in the blood and lungs.

Over the past few days, India has ramped up oxygen production nationwide, with the Centre prohibiting supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, in order to divert the stock for medical use. It has also decided to import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen and double its domestic production.

However, the crisis has persisted in Delhi, as well as across other cities. Social media is awash with people searching for beds, ventilators and medicines, while relatives throng pharmacies looking for antiviral drug Remdesivir that hospitals ran out of long ago.