With the new Covid cases now increasing by over a lakh every day – over two lakh in each of the past two days – the lack of oxygen cylinders has made for grim headlines
Less than 10 days after insisting there is no shortage of medical oxygen – even as hospitals across the country red-flagged low stocks and Covid patients died – the centre on Friday evening issued its third emergency order in 24 hours – this time to ensure the uninterrupted supply of cylinders across state borders, and to allow manufacturers and suppliers to serve hospitals across India.
The order, signed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, came hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed about the centre’s efforts to rapidly scale up production and supply of oxygen cylinders in the face of a deeply alarming and persisting spike in Covid cases across India.
“… medical oxygen is an essential public health commodity… impediment in supplies may impact management of COVID-19 patients… ensure (i) no restriction is imposed on movement of medical oxygen between states/ UTs… (ii) no restrictions shall be imposed on oxygen manufacturers and suppliers to limit supplies only to hospitals of the state in which they are located… (iii) free movement of oxygen carrying vehicles into the cities…” Mr Bhalla wrote in his order.
Oxygen supplies are key for hospitals treating people with advanced COVID-19 symptoms, who are often unable to breathe on their own and have to be put on ventilators or be otherwise assisted.
With the number of new Covid cases now increasing by over a lakh every day – over two lakh in each of the past two days – the lack of oxygen cylinders has made for grim headlines.
Several states, including worst-hit Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, have complained of a shortage, with some hospitals now refusing to admit people without families offering a signed undertaking – that they will not hold the facility legally responsible for the lack of oxygen.
From saying there is no shortage the centre – which says production is at capacity – is scrambling to boost supplies, particularly since demand is expected to spike even more within the coming fortnight.
On Thursday the centre identified a dozen states most likely to desperately need oxygen.
Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are to be given over 17,000 metric tonnes by April 30.
In that same order the centre also said a 100 new hospitals would get their own oxygen plants.
The centre has also decided to import oxygen – around 50,000 metric tonnes – from abroad, and permit industrial-purpose oxygen to be used to cover the shortfall.
The country’s health infrastructure – already battered by the first Covid wave – is barely hanging on in many parts, with patients forced to share beds and medical equipment in some cities.
This morning 1,185 deaths linked to the virus were reported – a figure that is only marginally lower than the most recorded in single day, and a metric that has risen steadily since mid-March.
As the virus spreads, particularly the more aggressive variants, overburdened staff and hospitals will need all the help they can get – including resources and equipment – to try and win this war.