Five Covid patients have died at a private hospital in Tamil Nadu's Salem in the past three days allegedly due to a shortage of medical oxygen.
The deaths come after oxygen supply to 30 private hospitals in Salem was cut by over 50 per cent - from 20 kilolitres to eight. Oxygen was being supplied to Salem and western parts of the state by neighbouring Kerala, which was forced to cut it off to meet its own requirements.
All 30 Salem hospitals have stopped admitting patients, even though the district records as many as 800 Covid cases per day and the demand for hospital beds is high.
"Oxygen has become the basic therapy for Covid cases. Since we have an acute shortage and a spurt in cases, we decided not to admit serious patients," Dr T Jayaraman, Managing Director of Kurinji Hospitals, told NDTV.
The oxygen crisis in the state has affected capital Chennai too, where a 40-bed private hospital has also stopped admitting those who need ventilators or high oxygen flow.
"Hospitals with small reserves like ours can't make the mistake of taking on a patient with high oxygen needs... we can't allow them to die or run around looking for another hospital. Case selection is very important," Dr Srinivasan Krishnan, the Director of Srinivasan Rajalakshmi Memorial Hospital, said.
Tamil Nadu continues to see a steep and steady increase in daily numbers, with over 33,000 new cases recorded on Monday. Around 10 per cent of these new daily cases need hospitalisation.
Oxygen requirements, therefore, have doubled to 450 metric tonnes per day in the last few weeks, and demand is projected to touch 840 MT in a week.
However, the state gets only 415 MT after Kerala stopped supply.
Last week Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi warning of such a step. Mr Vijayan said he would send Tamil Nadu oxygen till May 10 but, after that, it would be "practically impossible to allow oxygen to be taken out... considering the present situation".
With no major steel industries Tamil Nadu is tapping all possible resources, even as far as Odisha.
The Chennai Corporation is also diversifying its arsenal by procuring 3,000 oxygen concentrators.
"We have provided these to medical colleges and hospitals in four zones, so they can use them on the ground floor after patients arrive. Our aim is to have 5,000 stand-alone beds ready to complement existing oxygen facilities," Gagandeep Singh Bedi, the Chennai Corporation Commissioner, told NDTV.
Experts believe the oxygen crisis - something several states have had to grapple with in the second wave - has led to an increase in the number of Covid-related deaths.
As with new cases, the number of deaths per day in Tamil Nadu has skyrocketed from 19 on April 1 to 311 on Monday. And the surge is beginning to cripple Tamil Nadu's private healthcare facilities.
Authorities say they expect an improvement in oxygen supply in a few days. The worry, however, is that any delay is bound to further stress already-stretched government-run hospitals in the state.