INDIAN doctors have sent out SOS messages begging for oxygen as wards are on the brink of collapse.
The country is fighting the "world's worst" coronavirus outbreak, with dying Covid patients lined up on stretchers outside hospitals.
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On Friday, India reported more than 332,730 new infections – the highest daily sum of the pandemic anywhere in the world for the second day in a row.
The surging cases are pushing health services to the limit, with medical oxygen scarce and hospitals understaffed and overflowing.
Intensive care units are full with nearly all ventilators in use, leaving doctors no choice but to plead for help on social media.
One hospital, which is treating 500 Covid patients, warned of an impending crisis on Friday.
Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi said: "Oxygen will last another two hours."
It added that it feared another 60 of its most ill patients were at risk, after 25 died in the last 24 hours.
Thankfully an emergency oxygen delivery arrived two hours later, but shortages are so severe this only provided temporary relief.
And by the evening, hospitals elsewhere had not received any help at all.
A major private hospital chain in the capital, Max Hospital, tweeted that one of its facilities had one hour's oxygen supply in its system.
It said: "We regret to inform that we are suspending any new patient admissions in all our hospitals in Delhi until oxygen supplies stabilise."
Two days earlier, it had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court saying hospitals were running out of oxygen, endangering the lives of 400 patients, of which 262 were being treated for Covid-19.
And the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in New Delhi was left with just 30 minutes' worth of oxygen left to care for 160 Covid patients.
A doctor working in a separate government hospital in the south of India, who wished to remain anonymous, said things are so bad that "patients are trying to hit doctors".
He told the BBC: "They are blaming doctors for everything and even the [hospital] management is also blaming the doctors. It's a stressful environment.
"We have presently almost used 99 per cent of oxygen ports – only 1 per cent is left. It's a very pathetic situation."
Akhil Gupta was waiting for a bed for his 62-year-old mother, Suman, after she tested positive for the virus on April 2 and experienced difficulty breathing.
For the next two days, her other sons, Nikhil and Akhil, drove around the city of Delhi visiting every hospital in search of a bed.
They managed to find one after a visit to the emergency room at the Max Hospital in Patparganj, where she was put on oxygen temporarily as she waited in line for a bed to open up inside.
But the doctors are now asking for her sons to take her away because oxygen supplies are running so low.
Sky News captured similar scenes showing rows of people lying on stretchers outside one overcrowded hospital in the capital.
Police have even been deployed to patrol the entrances to wards to stop desperate families stealing oxygen.
Atul Gogia, a frontline doctor in Delhi, told BBC Radio 4 today: "It's really, really very hectic, both physically mentally emotionally, it's a challenging day.
"Everything is full, we are over-pressed, staff are catching the disease so we are short of staff as well.
"We do have oxygen but it's now on a day-to-day basis. There is such a huge surge we do not have places in the emergency room.
"We do not have enough oxygen points, patients are coming in with their own oxygen, others without.
"We want to help them but there are not enough beds or oxygen points, and not enough oxygen to supply them even if there were."
The country's overall coronavirus death toll stands at 186,920, according to Johns Hopkins University's count.
Bodies are being cremated through the night – contrary to Hindu custom which dictates no bodies be burned after sundown – to cope with the backlog.
The hold-up is so severe that families are having to wait hours in 35C heat before they can cremate their loved ones and funeral pyres have been sending smoke into the sky non-stop.
It comes as Britain finally imposes a travel ban – adding India to the UK's official coronavirus travel red list.
Passengers on flights into the UK from India must now enter hotel quarantine.
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