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  • Coronavirus pandemic

A healthcare worker checks oxygen levels of local women near Ahmedabad, India. Photo: 15 September 2020

image copyrightReuters

image captionHealthcare officials have been carrying out oxygen level testing across India

The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in India has surpassed five million, officials say, the second-highest in the world after the US.

The virus is spreading much faster in India than any other country, with daily cases crossing 90,000 for the five days up until Monday.

More than 80,000 people have died, amid reports of shortages of intensive care beds and oxygen supplies.

But the government says the death rate is much lower than in other countries.

The rise in infections comes as the government continues to lift restrictions throughout the country to try to boost an economy that lost millions of jobs when the virus hit in March.

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In the initial stages of Covid-19, India appeared to be doing fairly well, imposing a strict lockdown, but the virus then hit megacities like Mumbai and the capital Delhi, before surging in smaller cities and rural areas.

Despite the increase, the government has eased restrictions.

As India opens up its economy and people return to work, Covid-19 cases have been surging. Some 600,000 cases were added just last week.

What about reported oxygen shortages?

Demand for oxygen has risen exponentially recently.

Hospitals and care centres are consuming up to about 2,700 tonnes of oxygen every day this month, compared with 750 tonnes in April, according to data obtained from All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionLarge hospitals depend on liquid oxygen with backup cylinders

Oxygen manufacturers say the demand for industrial oxygen has also shot up because more factories are now reopening.

The states seeing a worrying uptick in infections – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh – are suffering the most. It is a lives-versus-livelihoods question that India is grappling with now, BBC India correspondent Soutik Biswas reports.

India will now need to increase capacity to make sure that both industries and patients do not suffer, our correspondent adds.

Most oxygen plants are built near cities and big towns. So supplies to far flung districts where Covid-19 patients are filling hospitals have to be sent by special lorries carrying cryogenic tanks – India has some 1,500 such vehicles.

Many states – the capital, Delhi, for example – do not have a single oxygen manufacturer, and all supplies have to come from neighbouring regions.

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