The number of Covid patients needing oxygen in Delhi’s hospitals has risen by fivefold overnight, as omicron threatens to overwhelm India’s healthcare system.
On Tuesday, India reported 58,097 cases of Covid: double the daily tally over the last four days alone and a significant increase from Monday, when 37,123 infections were recorded.
The Indian authorities also confirmed the country’s first omicron fatality after a man died in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan on December 31. The 72-year-old also had diabetes.
In Delhi, India’s capital, the number of admissions to oxygen beds rose to 905 from 168 on Tuesday, while patients requiring ICU treatment shot up from 14 to 66 in just 24 hours.
Delhi has one of the country’s fastest growing epidemics and its R rate – the number of people each infected person passes the virus to – is 2.69, the highest in India.
While the majority of cases in Delhi have so far been mild, its hospitals could again become overwhelmed as they were during India’s devastating second wave last spring, if the number of infections continues to grow rapidly.
“In comparison to delta, the omicron strain virus is four times more transmissible,” said Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, the director of Max Super Specialty Hospital, the largest private Covid-19 care provider in Delhi.
“While the hospitalisation requirement among omicron patients is one-fourth compared to delta, the high number of infections will still make a significant number of people requiring hospitalisation, because the absolute number of cases would be very large,” he said.
Dr Budhiraja added that as India’s omicron wave is only just beginning, the next few days would give a better idea of its impact.
India’s western state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai and entry point for many international travellers, has been the worst hit so far.
Over 15,000 new cases were reported in Mumbai on Wednesday. The city’s mayor has warned a strict lockdown will be imposed should this tally exceed 20,000.
Already hospitals in Mumbai are suffering from staffing shortages due to doctors and nurses testing positive for omicron. In one large public hospital, St George’s, 25 per cent of resident doctors are Covid-19 positive.