COVID-19: India in crisis; Cambodian, Lao localities under lockdown

India is facing a crisis as hospitals run out of beds and oxygen for COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile, cases continue to surge in the Southeast Asian countries of Cambodia and Laos, with more localities put under lockdown.
April 24, 2021 | 07:51
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India recorded over 3 lakh cases for the second straight day on Friday, clocking 3,32,730 cases in the last 24 hours, the Union Health Ministry informed. (Express photos by Nirmal Harindran)
A record daily spike in coronavirus infections pushed health infrastructure in India to the brink in several states. Photo: The Indian Express

India: Scramble for ventilators, oxygen, ICU beds

A record daily spike in coronavirus infections pushed health infrastructure in India to the brink in several states as patients scrambled to secure hospital beds, governments struggled to provide oxygen needed to stabilise serious patients, and crematoriums in major cities reported huge rush and long delays, Hindustan Times reported.

The worst crisis was reported from major urban centres with high caseloads, bringing true fears, expressed by experts when the pandemic first hit India in March last year, of infections inundating hospitals, overwhelming civic infrastructure and taking medical staff to the breaking point.

In Delhi, which reported its highest daily case number of 19,486 on April 23, 88 percent of 3,976 intensive care unit beds were occupied, according to the government’s Delhi Corona app. Patients also reported acute difficulties in securing a bed.

In Bengaluru, which logged 9,917 cases, 99 percent beds in government hospitals were occupied, an increase of more than 20 percentage points in the past three days.

In Mumbai, which saw 8,839 cases, the bed occupancy rate was close to 80 percent. The availability of beds in ICUs or with oxygen support was even harder to come by.

Patients sit on bed waiting to be moved to a hospital, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad, India, April 14, 2021. (Reuters)
Patients sit on bed waiting to be moved to a hospital, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease in Ahmedabad, India, April 14, 2021. Photo: Reuters

By air, by train and by road, India is scrambling to move large quantities of medical oxygen to hospitals in New Delhi and other areas hit hard by a record surge of COVID-19, Reuters said.

The main problem is that medical oxygen is not reaching hospital beds in time. This delay is a product of where production units are located, a stretched distribution network, and what critics have said is bad planning.

Several hospitals in Delhi, which has no significant oxygen production capacity, made frantic public calls this week seeking emergency supplies.

With COVID-19 cases also swamping its neighbouring states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, oxygen facilities there are over-stretched attempting to meet local demand.

To fulfil Delhi's current needs, additional medical oxygen now has to be trucked in from industrial zones in eastern India.

The facilities from where Delhi will now receive oxygen are spread across seven states, some more than 1,000 km (625 miles)away, according to a court document.

Customers at a store selling medical oxygen cylinders in Lucknow on Friday. (Express Photo: Vishal Srivastav)
Customers at a store selling medical oxygen cylinders in Lucknow on April 23. Photo: The Indian Express

Given the hazardous nature of the substance, all liquid oxygen must be transported in a limited number of specialised tankers, requiring advance planning to ensure deliveries are made on time, a gas industry source told Reuters.

In recent days, as a scramble for oxygen among states worsened, local officials in some regions disrupted movement of tankers in a bid to keep supplies for themselves.

In part due to such blockades, Delhi only received about 177 tonnes of oxygen on Wednesday against its allocation of 378 tonnes, an official said.

Chairing a meeting with chief ministers of different states on April 23, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the railway and Air Force have been deployed to reduce the travel and turnaround time for oxygen tankers so that states facing a shortage of medical oxygen could get it in time.

The PM also said that every state should ensure that no oxygen tanker, meant for any state, is stopped or gets stranded, according to The Indian Express.

Cambodia: cases soaring, third locality under lockdown

A woman has her sample taken for Covid-19 testing in Phnom Penh. - Phnom Penh Post/ANN
A woman has her sample taken for COVID-19 testing in Phnom Penh. Photo: Phnom Penh Post/ANN

The Cambodian Ministry of Health on April 23 reported another 655 COVID-19 cases, all but one of which were linked to the February 20 community outbreak, according to The Star.

Among the cluster cases, Phnom Penh recorded the most at 522, followed by Preah Sihanouk province at 113; five each in Kandal and Takeo; three each in Kampong Cham and Mondulkiri; and one each in Tbong Khmum and Kampong Speu.

The ministry also reported 224 recoveries.

As of April 23, Cambodia had recorded a total of 8,848 COVID-19 cases, with 5,633 receiving ongoing treatment and 61 confirmed fatalities.

Meanwhile, Cambodia began setting up thousands of hospital beds in two wedding party halls to cope with an influx of COVID-19 patients in a country that up until recently had largely managed to contain infections.

People wearing protective face masks rush to buy groceries at a fresh market amid rumors of a citywide lockdown during the latest Covid-19 outbreak at a temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 14, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Cindy Liu.
People wearing protective face masks rush to buy groceries at a fresh market amid rumors of a citywide lockdown during the latest Covid-19 outbreak at a temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 14, 2021. Photo: Reuters

A two-week stay-at-home lockdown was imposed in Cambodia's coastal city of Preah Sihanouk on April 23 in efforts to curb a surge in the local COVID-19 cases, Xinhua reported.

Preah Sihanouk city of Preah Sihanouk province is located about 230 km southwest of Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia.

"The lockdown is aimed at ensuring the effectiveness in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Preah Sihanouk city, and is to prevent the disease from spreading to other areas," said Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun.

It is the third Cambodian city put under lockdown after the country has ordered a two-week lockdown in Phnom Penh and its adjacent Ta Khmau city from April 15 to 28.

In a bid to prevent the virus' spread, the country has also banned inter-provincial travel from April 6 to 28 and has closed down all schools, tourist attractions, sports facilities, museums, cinemas, and entertainment venues nationwide.

Laos: hospitals would run out of beds

A restaurant clerk rests at a Chinese restaurant in Vientiane on Feb 11, 2020. Laos locked down its capital and closed its international borders to most traffic on Thursday, Apr 22, 2021, after identifying a COVID-19 cluster connected to its bigger neighbour Thailand. (File photo: AP/Kyodo News)
A restaurant clerk rests at a Chinese restaurant in Vientiane on Feb 11, 2020. Laos locked down its capital and closed its international borders to most traffic on Apr 22, 2021, after identifying a COVID-19 cluster connected to its bigger neighbour Thailand. File photo: AP/Kyodo News

Hospitals could start to run out of beds as the number of people admitted with COVID-19 surges as a result of the first community outbreak of the virus in Laos, Vientiane Times said.

Out of the 159 confirmed cases to date, 110 were recorded in Vientiane, the National Taskforce for COVID-19 Prevention and Control announced on April 23.

Speaking at a press conference on the day, Deputy Minister of Health, Assoc. Prof. Dr Phouthone Muongpak, said there were currently enough beds in the central and field hospitals to accommodate patients and medical staff were on standby with specialised equipment to treat people if necessary.

There will be an impact. We don't know how it will end, but we're assessing the situation in the worst-case scenario,” he said.

The government of Laos has closed its borders and announced a two-week lockdown in the capital, Vientiane, as the country weathers a rare outbreak of COVID-19 linked to its neighbor Thailand, according to The Diplomat.

The city will bunker down until May 5, Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh said, during which time the city’s residents must remain at home unless buying groceries or seeking medical treatment. All gatherings of more than 20 people will be prohibited, and entertainment venues, bars, massage parlors, and gyms will be forced to close.

The government has also banned travel between the capital and the provinces and has moved to clamp down on illegal border crossings from Thailand, which is currently in the midst of its worst outbreak of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

This is Vientiane’s second lockdown, after restrictions were introduced in April of last year after the discovery of the country’s first cluster of COVID-19 cases./.

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