20:56 GMT20 October 2020
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    As India partially lifted its strict lockdown to open the economy, COVID-19 cases surged drastically, exceeding 5.2 million. With the healthcare system under increasing pressure, the worst-hit states Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have suffered a shortage of oxygen cylinders and Delhi residents are grappling with an unprecedented price rise.

    Struggling to equal the ever-growing demand for critical life-saving equipment, providers of oxygen in the national capital Delhi have inflated the price of cylinders by more than 35 percent in past few days.

    The cylinders which used to cost $20-25 (INR 1500-1800) are now sold at $34-41 (INR 2500-3000) to individuals who need the device at home.

    Ambrish Mishra, the chief operating officer of HDU Healthcare that been setting up home intensive care units for covid sufferers, told Sputnik that the problem is not a shortage of oxygen cylinders but the black market.

    “The shortfall is created by the companies, the main issue is of black marketing the equipment because of the massive surge in demand. The prices have also shot up during the pandemic,” said Mishra.

    He explained that 20-30 percent of the stock is allocated for their regular and loyal customers who have been given priority. However, oxygen is needed urgently, especially for Covid patients whose oxygen levels drop much faster.

    "We try not to say no to anyone, but when there are problems in supplying and refilling from the backend we try to fulfil the demands of our known customers first," he adds.

    With India witnessing a dramatic resurgence in new coronavirus cases, Delhi set a remarkable example in the whole country by bringing down daily positive cases and deaths. But the situation was shortlived as with gradual unlocking of economic activities in Delhi, the capital saw an surge of 4,000 daily fresh cases in September.

    Delhi has a total of 142,723 cases and 4,877 deaths.

    Manish Verma, a software engineer in Delhi who has his three family members infected, said he struggled for more than 24 hours to get the oxygen cylinder when his father's oxygen levels dropped.

    "I called two dealers, they all quoted the price very high and said I would be able to get cylinders only the next morning. Despite the high price I placed the order but ended up receiving the delivery in the night after numerous calls," said Verma.

    Health ministry official Rajesh Bhushan highlighted that at least 6 percent of India's nearly one million active cases need oxygen support. He noted that the problem occurs when there is no inventory management and shortages are reported by the state despite adequate supply.


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