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2 black market dealers busted in India amid growing medical oxygen shortage, as Covid-19 death toll hits 200,000

Delhi police seized five oxygen tanks, including a large commercial oxygen cylinder, from black market dealers, ANI news website reported.

Medical oxygen is vital for saving people with severe cases of Covid-19, many of whom have major breathing problems. Police have been conducting raids in Delhi and other parts of India on dealers who hoard oxygen tanks and sell them illegally, as hospital patients end up gasping for air due to shortages.

On Sunday, police in the northern Haryana state recovered more than 170 tanks in a sting operation, arresting a seller. Last week, officers raided a Delhi house where 48 tanks were stored illegally by another dealer.

Indian media described horror stories of people using auto-rickshaws to race between hospitals in desperate search of oxygen for sick family members, and hundreds standing in lines for life-saving treatment.

Hospitals and local officials have pleaded with the government to help. On April 24, Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital tweeted that over 200 lives were at stake if medical oxygen was not delivered by 9pm that day. India Today wrote on Saturday that more than 20 Covid-19 patients had reportedly died in the hospital amid the shortage.

“It’s like a war situation,” a nurse at New Delhi’s Moolchand Hospital told NDTV, describing how the staff was struggling with depleted oxygen stock. 

Oxygen shortages were caused by the rapid rise in coronavirus infections combined with problems in manufacturing and logistics. S.D. Mishra, an oxygen supply officer at the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization, told ThePrint online newspaper that there was little government oversight in the oxygen supply chain for hospitals before the pandemic. 

India’s death toll from Covid-19 shot past 200,000 on Wednesday, marking the seventh consecutive day with more than 300,000 new infections. On Monday, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the dire situation in the country “beyond heartbreaking.”

Government officials said they were urgently importing oxygen tankers and generators from Germany, France, and Thailand.

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