Social media posts in India are no longer about cheeky photos, funny memes or political jokes. Instead, frantic calls to save lives are flooding Twitter and Instagram as the latest wave of Covid-19 cases and deaths overwhelm the nation's hospitals and crematoriums.
India on Thursday reported the world's largest-ever daily surge with 3.14 lakh new Covid-19 cases and 2,104 deaths, which is the fastest rise in infections and fatalities any country has suffered till now.
The nation is also facing its worst health challenge in recent years with the shortage of medical oxygen, hospital beds and the antiviral drug Remdesivir used in the treatment of Covid-19, reports NDTV, adding that 1.84 lakh people have died in the country so far.
Under the grim circumstances, the Supreme Court of India has sought a national plan on oxygen supply, essential drugs and method of vaccination, and issued a notice to the central government in this regard.
Exponential rise in fresh infections
The rise in case numbers across India has been exponential in the second wave. The fresh surge on Thursday surpassed the previous highest one-day rise in the world of 297,430 cases posted by the USA in January.
India has been recording over 2 lakh infections every day since April 15 and the second wave is yet to peak, said media reports, noting that Maharashtra (67,468), Uttar Pradesh (33,106), Delhi (24,638), Karnataka (23,558) and Kerala (22,414) recorded the biggest surge in the 24-hour period.
On 18 June last year, India recorded 11,000 cases and in the next 60 days, it added 35,000 new cases on average every day, reports BBC.
At the start of the second wave on 10 February, India confirmed 11,000 cases – and in the next 50 days the daily average was around 22,000 cases. However, cases rose sharply in the following 10 days with the daily average reaching 89,800, it added.
The situation worsened as the second Covid wave hit with blistering force in March.
Desperation grows for oxygen, hospital beds
The second wave of the Covid-19 has left infected patients gasping for breath as hospitals in some states continue to face an acute shortage of medical oxygen. Many hospitals in Delhi and few other states are currently operating on the edge amid the crisis.
Many Covid-19 patients have died over the past few weeks due to the unavailability of medical oxygen in hospitals situated in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, reports India Today.
A flurry of SOS messages on Twitter and other social media platforms show the severity of the oxygen shortage in these states.
The Supreme Court on Thursday took suo moto cognisance of the prevailing grim situation, and sought a national plan on issues such as the supply of oxygen and essential drugs for treatment of patients infected with the virus.
The court also issued a notice to the central government of India and said it would hear the matter on Friday.
Besides, the Indian government on Thursday announced that there will be no restriction on the movement of medical oxygen, and that supply cannot be limited to any particular state. It also banned the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes until further notice, reports NDTV.
Responding to the Indian government's call for ramping up oxygen production amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, the country's corporate bigwigs as well as state-owned steel and oil entities have started expediting the essential gas' supply.
Steel and power giant Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) has said it has more than 500 tonnes of liquid oxygen stock available at its Angul plant in Odisha, and supplying around 100 tonnes of oxygen daily to Odisha and neighbouring Chhattisgarh, NDTV reported.
Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) has made changes in their oil refineries at Jamnagar in Gujarat and is producing around 700 tonnes per day of medical oxygen. Company sources informed that it is supplying oxygen to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Besides, Tata Steel has provided 300 tonnes of medical oxygen to Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
In a bid to ease the crisis, the central government of India had increased the quota of Oxygen for several states including Delhi, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday.
The oxygen quota of Maharashtra has been increased from 1,646 to 1,661 MT, from 445 to 543 MT in Madhya Pradesh, from 156 to 162 MT in Haryana, from 751 MT to 753 MT in UP and from 126 MT to 136 MT in Punjab.
The allocation has been raised from 360 MT to 440 MT in Andhra Pradesh, from 83 MT to 103 MT in Uttarakhand and from 378 MT to 480 MT in Delhi. The government also allocated a supply of Remdesivir to 19 states/union territories with a high burden of Covid cases.
Many Indian cities are reporting a chronic shortage of hospital beds. It is also evident in the desperate cries for help on social media platforms. Disturbing reports of people dying without getting timely treatment are coming from all over the country.
Several state governments say they are creating new facilities, but experts say it's going to be hard to keep up with the pace of the rising number of infections, say latest media reports.
Meanwhile, more and more states are announcing tough restrictions. In Maharashtra, the worst-hit state, the Uddhav Thackeray government announced new Covid curbs as part of the "Break-the-Chain" programme.
Modi addresses oxygen availability issue
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday chaired a high-level meeting to review the oxygen supply across India and discussed the ways to boost its availability, according to an official statement.
During the meeting, Modi highlighted the importance to work rapidly on three aspects which are – increasing the production of oxygen, increasing its speed and distribution and utilising innovative ways to provide oxygen support to health facilities, the statement said.
"Against the present demand from 20 states of 6,785 MT/ day of Liquid Medical Oxygen, the Government of India has, from 21st April, allocated 6,822 MT/ day to these states," the statement added.
The meeting was attended by principal secretary to the Indian PM PK Mishra, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan, home secretary Ajay Bhalla and officials of Niti Aayog and other ministries.