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Charted: Internet search trends in India reflect people’s desperation for oxygen

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ghaziabad
Reuters/Adnan Abidi
No respite.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published Last updated

India’s clamour for help on the internet has been relentless.

Between April 5 and April 20, searches for “oxygen” on Google, Flipkart, Amazon, and YouTube apps went up 60 times, according to market intelligence firm Kalagato.

Searches for “oxygen concentrators” and “oxygen cylinders” also clocked a massive surge during the period.

The spike, albeit astonishing, is unsurprising to most Indians. All search data is indexed to Jan.1, 2021, when India was reporting under 20,000 cases and less than 250 deaths daily. Now, the country is reporting close to 400,000 new cases and over 3,600 deaths in a day.

About 15% of those who have tested positive require oxygen therapy, Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) told National Herald. Then, there are thousands of people who’ve not been able to get tested or gotten false-negative results.

The curious case of oxygen and ventilators

Searches for ventilators surged 12 times in April as compared to the start of the year, Kalagato data show.

It’s significantly less than oxygen likely because, following the first wave, there was much debate about whether ventilators do harm or good.

Anecdotally, doctors have noticed higher mortality among Covid-19 patients who are put on ventilators, making many reluctant to use them. Often, noninvasive devices such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP, the sleep apnea device) and bilevel positive airway pressure ventilators (BiPAP) will do the job, experts have said.

In addition, even where there are ventilators available, there’s a dearth of trained staff to work them.

Besides equipment, the hunt for drugs has been equally berserk.

Covid-19 drug remdesivir

In India, there has been a mad scramble for remdesivir. So much so that remdesivir injections have been selling for up to Rs75,000 ($1,016) apiece in the black market, up manifold from its starting price of Rs899 ($12).

Searches for “remdesivir” in mid-April were 400X the January searches.

Indians want to get vaccinated

The good news is that “people are willing to get vaccinated,” Kalagato noted. ‘They’re looking for options.” Searches for “vaccine” towards the end of April—right before all adults became eligible—were up nearly 10 times compared to January.

The bad news, though, is that India’s vaccination drive has severely slowed because of shortages.

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