Desperate for Oxygen, India Turns to Twitter for Help


The coronavirus has effectively crippled India’s healthcare system. The situation in COVID hospitals in India is so grim, patients want to get out. Trainees in medical schools are being asked to help fight the world’s largest surge of COVID cases. Patients are left on their own as hospitals are filled to the exits with death and impending death. On May 1, India tallied a record 400,000 new cases of COVID-19, the highest single-day caseload anywhere in the world.

Photo by Exposure Visuals.

But it’s not just space in hospitals that is scarce these days. For many of the COVID patients inside these hospitals, there is another problem that was unimaginable a few months ago: the lack of oxygen. 

India’s supply of oxygen tanks for hospitals is being depleted faster than it's being replaced. The country of 1.36 billion people was not prepared for a surge of COVID cases of this magnitude. Indians afraid of going to the hospitals are turning to Twitter for a chance to get their hands on a tank of oxygen. 


“URGENT PLEASE! NEEDED: Ventilator urgently as hospital has no ventilator. Delhi,” reads one tweet. 

A plea for one hospital also trended on Twitter: “SOS! Less than 2 hours’ oxygen supplies at Max Hospital Gurugram and attached Dedicated Covid Centre. Over 70 covid pts admitted across.”


Twitter has become the coordinating hub for India’s oxygen woes. In April, the hashtag #IndiaNeedsOxygen trended worldwide, triggering an outpouring of support from companies and individuals. 

Those who get their hands on oxygen tanks are being reminded to return them so they could be refilled. “This is very important. Please return the empty cylinder which was provided to you to save your family member. Another serious patient urgently needs this cylinder. Be responsible,” wrote Raj Bansal, who is one of Bollywood’s biggest film distributors. 

The director of India’s Batra hospital also appealed on Twitter for help. “We are running out of oxygen, we are in crisis mode,” said the doctor. 

The turmoil in India has birthed a darker kind of new normal: an unexpected surge in black market trades, mass funeral pyres on the streets of Delhi, and the constant smell of burning flesh. At crematoriums in New Delhi, dead bodies are queued up outside, with family members waiting for hours for their turn to perform funeral rituals. The situation is so dire, funeral pyres are being set up beside the street for mass cremations. 

Calls to implement a nationwide shutdown were ignored by the government, which maintains such a lockdown could affect the dynamics of the spread of disease. 

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New Delhi, India, April 30, 2021: A relatives wear PPE during the mass cremation of those who died of COVID-19.

Photo by Exposure Visuals.

Photo by Exposure Visuals.
Photo by Exposure Visuals.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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