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India's Covid-19 Shortages Spur Black Market For Drugs, Oxygen

India's Covid-19 Shortages Spur Black Market For Drugs, Oxygen

Heart-rending scenes are unfolding across the country, with desperate people taking to social media to beg for beds, oxygen or medication.

Despite India's status as the "pharmacy of the world", the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir and favipiravir.

In the northern city of Lucknow, Ahmed Abbas was charged 45,000 rupees for a 46-litre oxygen cylinder, nine times its normal price.

"They asked me to pay in advance and pick it (up) from them the next day," the 34-year-old told AFP.

The crisis has added to criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, already under fire for allowing huge religious gatherings and addressing crowded political rallies himself.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal last weekend hit out at "doctors giving patients unnecessary oxygen".

"Patients should only be given as much oxygen as they need," Goyal told reporters.

New Delhi is now planning to import 50,000 tonnes of oxygen and has set up a special train service called the "Oxygen Express" to transport cylinders to hard-hit states. 

Modi said in an address to the nation on Tuesday night that "all efforts are being made" to boost supplies.

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