Social media platforms become triage centers as India struggles with a COVID-19 surge

Doctors, hospital owners, journalists, and other Twitter users in India have been tweeting and amplifying pleas for oxygen supplies on social platforms out of desperation, as new coronavirus cases and deaths there hit record highs. Oxygen supplies are at critical low levels in India, and some hospitals are overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID-19.

Using hashtags like #CovidSOS and #COVIDEmergency2021, many in India are seeking ICU beds, oxygen, and plasma, and others have tried to direct those in need to suppliers. Groups on WhatsApp and Facebook have been inundated with posts from people in need of ICU beds, oxygen, and other supplies, as organizations like HumanKind Global try to track down leads to help them.

“Not only there is lack of oxygen supply for those who can’t get medical aid in a hospital, the hospitals too are scurrying for oxygen,” journalist Abhishek Baxi wrote in an email to The Verge. Over the past several days, Baxi said, pleas for oxygen supplies on Twitter have increased “because they’ve not had any response from the authorities. There are updates on news channels about X hospital left with only few hours of oxygen or Y hospital optimizing supply to patients because they’ve got only 2 hours of oxygen supply left. These hospitals, their hands tied, have requested patients to go elsewhere – something not possible in a city where all hospitals are bursting at the seams.”

On Saturday, 20 patients died in a hospital in New Delhi due to depleted oxygen supply, the Hindustan Times reported.

India is reeling from a second wave of COVID-19 cases. According to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource center, India reported 349,691 new cases on Saturday, a new record. The country reported 2,767 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, also a new record. Less than 1.6 percent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated, the Johns Hopkins data show.

The New York Times reported that the situation may be even more dire than the numbers suggest, with officials in India downplaying or overlooking COVID-19 deaths. And at the Indian government’s demand, Twitter censored more than 50 posts critical of the government’s handling of the latest coronavirus surge, so the tweets were not visible within India.

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