NEW DELHI: As COVID-19 cases and deaths exploded in India in April and May, New Delhi’s premier Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and several others ran so short of oxygen that many patients in the capital suffocated.
When Reuters visited the hospital on Friday (Sep 3), its last coronavirus patient was readying to leave after recovery – a remarkable turnaround health experts attribute to growing levels of immunity from natural infection and vaccinations.
But hospitals have learned from bitter experience during the second COVID-19 wave, when funeral pyres burned non-stop and bodies littered the banks of the holy Ganges river, as India braces for another possible surge in infections around its September to November festival season.
Beds have been added at facilities around the country, and hospitals are working to ensure ample supplies of oxygen.
Ganga Ram is raising its oxygen storage capacity by 50 per cent, has laid a 1km-long pipeline carrying the gas directly to COVID-19 ICUs, and is installing equipment to keep the oxygen flow high.
It has also ordered an onsite oxygen-generation plant, which are mostly made in Europe and can take months to arrive given the surge in demand globally.
“In light of the possibility of the emergence of coronavirus mutants, with higher transmissibility and immune escape, the hospital continues to prepare for the worst,” said Satendra Katoch, medical director of the hospital, in between guiding colleagues doing an internal audit of its facilities.
The crowded private hospital, however, said it had no scope to add more beds. During the peak of India’s second wave, Ganga Ram expanded its capacity by nearly 50 per cent to about 600 beds, but even so, about 500 patients per day had to be put on a waitlist for admission, according to physician Varun Prakash, who managed its war-room during the crisis.