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Several hospitals in the national capital were on the verge of collapse on Wednesday as oxygen supplies ran low amid a record surge in coronavirus infections.

Hearing a petition from one of the country’s biggest private hospital operators, the Delhi high court on Wednesday ordered the central government to ensure Max Healthcare’s six hospitals in Delhi get an urgent supply of oxygen.

Several hospitals in Delhi sent out statements or tweeted that they were running low on oxygen, jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of critically ill covid-19 patients. While the shortage of oxygen is the most acute in Delhi, reports of scarcity have come from across India.

Meanwhile, a lack of cryogenic trucks, road diversions, and troubles faced by staff in reaching factories are making the shortage of medical oxygen worse, officials and company representatives said.

Suppliers, district officials and police personnel have been scrambling to ease some of these bottlenecks, even as state authorities accused counterparts in other states of deliberately holding up supplies.

“The Delhi government made frantic calls to at least a dozen transporters having cryogenic tankers and other such vehicles but found little luck," said a person aware of the developments, who asked not to be named.

Several hospitals and at least six transporters HT spoke to on Wednesday, too, said there was a major scramble for tankers for transportation of oxygen. At least one transporter and one hospital said vehicles were intercepted and supplies disrupted.

“Yes, we did get a call from Delhi government 3-4 days ago. But, by then, Madhya Pradesh had already booked all our tankers, and they are operating in that state. The MP administration had intercepted our tankers that had left from Faridabad when it was on its way to be filled at Rourkela. Since then, it is with them, and they are making payments," said K.K. Yadav, a transporter in Faridabad.

Max Healthcare Institute on Wednesday wrote to health minister Satyendar Jain saying the tanker scheduled to arrive at its facility in Shalimar Bagh was diverted to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

“Yesterday night, oxygen supply was disrupted as a tanker from M/s Inox on its way to refill the oxygen tanks at Max hospital, Shalimar Bagh, was diverted to AIIMS. This led to a situation where the hospital’s oxygen tanks ran dry. Thus, we had a critical situation. This seriously jeopardised the safety of the 250 Covid patients admitted under our care," read the letter written by the firm.

The crisis came into focus after one key hospital, GTB, received replenishments with mere minutes to spare on Tuesday night, and a similar crisis was averted at the last minute on Wednesday when vehicles from a Haryana-based company were let through to bring much-needed refills to four Delhi hospitals.

Officials at Inox Air Product Ltd, which supplies around 20% of the city’s oxygen, said its trucks were taking 2-3 hours extra because of diversions at Ghazipur and Singhu borders.

“Our tankers, particularly those coming from Uttar Pradesh, are having to travel 10-15km extra to enter Delhi due to the closure of the Ghazipur border. This may not be much for a car, but for heavy vehicles like ours, it can cause a delay of several hours due to speed and traffic constraints," said an official of the company, asking not to be named.

Shiv Sunny and HT correspondents in Lucknow contributed to the story.

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