Covid-19: Several cities are running out of hospital space

By: |
September 15, 2020 6:45 AM

In a suo-motu statement in Parliament on Monday, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said the number of dedicated isolation beds in the country had increased 36.3 times since March 2020 while the number of dedicated ICU beds had increased 24.6 times.

He also spoke of the steps taken to increase the supply of PPE kits, N-95 masks and ventilators.

The surge in Covid-19 infections, from 2.5 million a month ago to 4.9 million on September 14, has meant that, once again, several cities in the country could be running short of critical health infrastructure and need to create some on a war footing.

In a suo-motu statement in Parliament on Monday, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said the number of dedicated isolation beds in the country had increased 36.3 times since March 2020 while the number of dedicated ICU beds had increased 24.6 times.

As on September 12, Harsh Vardhan said, India had 13.1 lakh dedicated isolation beds without oxygen and 2.3 lakh beds with oxygen; in addition, there are 62,717 ICU beds (including 32,575 ventilator beds). He also spoke of the steps taken to increase the supply of PPE kits, N-95 masks and ventilators.

Cities like Pune are already at near full capacity (see table) in terms of ICU beds and ventilators and at around 90% levels in terms of total hospital beds.

Mumbai seems to be in a comfortable position with a third of hospital beds still unoccupied, but it is operating at around 95% levels when it comes to ICU beds and ventilators. If it does not augment capacity quickly, or if infection levels rise, the city will run out of both ICU and ventilator capacity in another 5-6 days.

Delhi appears quite comfortable in terms of the hospital capacity, but the picture is less rosy when examined in detail. While more than half the hospital beds are still unoccupied, the number is a smaller one-third in the case of private hospital beds that most seem to prefer.

Worse, in the case of ICU beds, nearly three-fourths of both public and private beds are occupied and the share is over 80% in the case of ventilators in private hospitals.

Delhi has a total of 1,074 ICU beds, of which 796 are occupied right now. Given that 2.8% of Delhi’s active cases need ICUs – and keeping in mind the number of patients who recover every day – this means Delhi will run out of ICUs in 9-10 days; that is why the government has asked hospitals to dedicate more of their ICUs to Covid-19 patients.

At the current rate of using ventilators – 2.6% of Covid-affected need ventilation in the capital – the 1,222 ventilators will all be occupied in another 14-15 days.

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