India’s Remarks On Covid Deaths Is A Classic Case Of Denial And Whataboutery

Instead of taking accountability, the Indian leadership is now adding insult to injury by claiming no one died of oxygen shortage.

First, the Indian government let the second wave of Covid-19 devastate the country. Its lackluster attitude allowed millions of citizens to die due to a lack of basic amenities such as beds, drugs, and oxygen. Instead of taking accountability, the leadership of this country is now adding insult to injury by claiming no one died of oxygen shortage.

During the second wave of Covid-19, I received desperate SOS calls from my family and friends pleading for oxygen. Many hospitals frantically posting on social media urging the government to arrange for oxygen as their patients were dying were one of the defining factors of the second wave of the pandemic in India. Many lost their lives as these pleas could not be met as oxygen ran out. I lost my friend, a close relative, and my neighbor. They could have been saved, but lack of oxygen killed them.

Did they die for fun? Did they die because it was in fashion to die of Covid-19? Or did they forget to breathe?

Did the minister of state for Health, Dr. Bharati Parvin Pawar, meet or speak with a dejected family member of those who died gasping for breath before brazenly announcing in the Rajya Sabha that “no deaths due to lack of oxygen has been specifically reported by states”?

Dr. Gautam Singh, who runs a 50-bed hospital in Delhi, told the BBC that there was an acute shortage of oxygen in April and May. “We were managing oxygen on an hourly basis. We came so close to losing patients. Somehow, we begged and borrowed to save our patients. But I do know other hospitals that lost patients due to the shortage.”

There were deaths. There were denials. People died as a direct result of oxygen shortage. People also died because supply was disrupted in hospitals due to human error and equipment malfunctions. The truth is, people did die. The truth is, governments did do nothing to avoid those deaths. This data contradicts what the various governments have said:

  • On April 22, one of the capital’s largest hospitals, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, reported that 25 severely ill Covid-19 patients had died due to lack of oxygen and 60 other patients were at risk.

  • 20 Covid-19 patients, most of who were admitted to the critical care unit of Delhi’s Jaipur Golden hospital, died due to low oxygen pressure as the hospital’s oxygen stock ran dry on April 23. 

  • On May 1, Delhi’s Batra Hospital said that they lost 11 patients and a doctor due to lack of oxygen. 

  • On May 2, the oxygen crisis took a heavy toll when 24 Covid-19 patients died in Chamarajnagar, 175km away from Bengaluru, after the government district hospital ran out of oxygen supply.

  • On May 4, two Covid-19 patients, including a 38-year-old mother of two children, died at Arka hospital in Yelahanka due to the non-availability of oxygen.

Covid-19 patients died of lack of empathy, lack of medical facilities, and lack of oxygen. Guess the government does not want to take any responsibility. Tomorrow it will say Covid-19 never hit India. But can the government deny the brutal display of desperate pleas for help from both families and doctors as patients gasped for breath? 

Dr. Sumit Ray, head of critical care at Holy Family Hospital, told The Quint accountability can be established only if there is a will to do so. “You will have to establish that oxygen levels fell for a number of patients at the same time, you will have to establish that there was a sudden drop in O2 levels, you’ll have to match it with hospital logs of oxygen levels. Machines auto-reset in 72 hours, so unless they extract that data quickly, it is lost.”

Unfortunately, Covid-19 patients didn’t just die in hospitals due to oxygen shortage. Thousands died at home when their family members were desperately hunting for oxygen cylinders. Hundreds died in ambulances as they were turned away from one hospital to another. Many died in car parking and outside emergency rooms waiting to be admitted as our healthcare infrastructure crumbled.

 In Uttar Pradesh, 61-year-old Shankar Dayal died grasping at his home. “We went to many hospitals, but we were denied admission. There were no beds, no oxygen. We had to bring our father back home. He died because we could not arrange a fresh oxygen cylinder. We went through an endless struggle,” Prince Kumar, one of Dayal’s sons, told NDTV.

Who is responsible for these deaths? Just because states did not record these tragic deaths, can the government deny these were oxygen shortage-related deaths and run away from the truth?

“If there was no shortage of oxygen, why did hospitals move court? Hospitals and the media had been flagging oxygen shortage issues daily. Television channels showed that how hospitals were running out of life-saving gas. It is completely false to say that no one died due to oxygen shortage. There have been many deaths due to oxygen shortage in Delhi and many other places across the country,” Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said, calling the government’s bluff.

The fact is the deaths happened because, in the pandemic year, the central government increased oxygen exports by about 700%. The deaths happened because the central government did not arrange tankers to transport oxygen in time. The deaths happened because the central government showed no interest in setting up oxygen plants in hospitals.

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