We Have Less Than an Hour’s Oxygen—India and Covid-19
Posted on April 23, 2021
They’ll be packing 85,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this coming Sunday, Anzac Day, for a game of Australian Rules Football.
It’s Friday afternoon as I write, just a short drive away from the MCG and I’m watching a live TV English news broadcast from India.
The studio has thrown to a reporter in a Delhi street. He says that in less than an hour the hospital behind him will run out of oxygen needed for the ventilation of the Covid-19 ill. The anchor crosses to the outskirts of Mumbai where another reporter details a hospital ICU fire that overnight killed 13 Covid-19 patients there. This, one day after yet another hospital’s oxygen tanker leaked killing 22 more. All the while, a banner runs just below the screen. It reads:
Covid-19 killed 77 people on March 9. Yesterday Covid-19 killed 2,200 people.
These stories are stark. Not only has India just broken the record for Covid-19 cases in a single day—332,000—the country once called globalisation’s “economic elephant”, is in existential crisis. And the world can’t pretend this crisis is self-contained
Yesterday, Australia announced the cutting back of repatriation flights from India seeing Covid-19 cases growing in its hotel quarantine programs across numerous states. Today, Canada stopped all flights from India and Pakistan.
I’m still listening to Indian TV. Now they have an expert telling people how to treat themselves for Covid-19 at home, “They should lie prone and take deep breaths in and out,” he says before the anchor cuts to an ad—and owing to the mysteries of the internet it’s a tailored promotion celebrating tourism to Melbourne.
Which brings things into a clearer focus. Should a country like Australia, practically unique in the world having kept Covid-19 out through tight international border closures, lockdowns and at least one curfew, be celebrating its freedoms while neighbours like India, Papua New Guinea, even Brazil are dying from Covid-19—politically self-inflicted as they may be?
The ads are over, the anchor now says stressing her syllables, “India has reported its highest ever Covid-19 cases, 3.2 lakh (3.2 hundred thousand) and the deadliest day in the world.”
She cuts to another journalist now, who’s not just talking about a shortage of oxygen but healthcare workers too.
The irony is, as 2021 began India boasted of its prowess in the local manufacture of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, called Covidshield. India said its production capacity would supply the poorest countries in the world.
Reality hit when India supplemented Covidshield with another home-grown vaccine Covaxin, and then Russia’s little-known Sputnik V. Yesterday, India reversed its decision a month ago to temporality halt manufacture of Covidshield, its Serum Institute now promising 100 million AstraZeneca doses by July.
It just feels odd though as Australia, its dwarf of a neighbour, debates vaccine uptake in the wake of the minuscule risk of blood clotting posed by AstraZeneca—exacerbated by its failure to secure supplies of an mRNA alternative such as Pfizer. It feels odd as Australians throw off their masks, for months a staple of daily wear. It feels odd as cinemas, theatres and indeed sport, once again move towards capacity audiences. Eighty-five thousand at the MCG will be the world’s largest sporting crowd since Covid-19 began.
The weekend beckons Down Under, but as I close this final draft here, that hour is nearly up for Delhi.
Now the anchor breaks in:
An oxygen tanker has just arrived in the last 10 minutes.
She asks a doctor there how many hours oxygen the hospital now has? He says he’s unsure, “People are dying.”
Even in Bhopal, the site of 1984’s poison gassing by Union Carbide, they’re running out of medical oxygen too.
To be able to pretend all is safe. Yet, Australia went into a bit of a panic today with one Covid-19 case that flew into Victoria from hotel quarantine in Western Australia.
He caught Covid-19 from unrelated repatriates who quarantined in the room next door to his. They came from India.
© 2021 Adam Parker.