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Oxygen thieves are stealing tanks of the gas to treat relatives suffering from Covid-19 at home.
A spate of robberies in Mexico, the country with the fourth highest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide, has led to pleas from the authority for would-be criminals to think again.
It came as Mexico recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began of 1,584 with 18,894 new cases.
The Mexican Social Security Institute reported that an armed man burst into a government hospital in the northern state of Sonora on Tuesday and stole seven oxygen tanks.
The thief is said to have pointed a gun at a hospital employee, demanding to know where the oxygen was kept, before he made off with three full canisters and four empty ones.
Authorities in the city of Navajoa are hunting the man and another suspect who drove off in a car carrying the haul.
On the same day police chased down a small freight lorry carrying 44 tanks after the lorry was reported stolen in the town of Tultepec, just north of Mexico City.
Two suspects were detained at the scene.
Such is the shortage of oxygen in Mexico that authorities have now launched a campaign urging people to return oxygen tanks they no longer need.
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Enormous demand brought on by the pandemic has created a shortage, with the product crucial for severely ill coronavirus patients who are struggling to breath.
The campaign is running under the slogan "Return Your Tank, For The Love of Life".
Many hospitals are overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases so families are deciding to treat their relatives at home instead.
But once patients recover many people simply keep the canisters just in case someone else falls ill, the Social Security Institute said.
“By doing this they are depriving other patients of something they need at a given moment, and cannot get,” it added.
Only the USA, Brazil and India have higher death tolls than Mexico's, with around 144,000 people dying.
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