Several states in deep oxygen crisis
New Delhi: As India saw another record high of 2,95,041 new COVID cases and 2023 deaths, the oxygen crisis precipitated by the second wave which has left tens of thousands hospitalised appeared to intensify with complaints of shortage from several states, including Maharashtra where tragedy struck when 24 patients on ventilator support suffocated to death due to leakage in an oxygen storage tank.
On the vaccination front, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Assam were the latest to announce free COVID vaccination for all aged above 18 years, after Uttar Pradesh and Assam made a similar decision, and officials presented data to assert that the vaccines reduce the risk of infection and prevent death and severe infection.
At a press conference, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul appealed to the states, hospitals and nursing homes
to ensure rational use of oxygen as it was "life-saving" drug for the coronavirus infected patients.
Noting that 7,500 MT of oxygen was being produced in the country per day and 6,600 MT is being allocated to states for medical purposes, the Centre said the Union government and state governments need to work together and respond promptly to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The Centre's response came as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra indulged in a blame game and squabbled over oxygen distribution while demanding an increase in their quota.
Haryana health minister Anil Vij said given the increased demand for oxygen due to a surge in coronavirus cases, his state can spare the supply for others only after meeting its demand.
In Maharashtra, Nashik was the worst-hit city in the country in terms of cases per million residents, according to
the Union health ministry's data compiled between March 16 and April 15 from major cities.
Tope had on Tuesday said the state was "managing with 1,550 metric tonnes of oxygen" per day at present and is going to buy oxygen generators, besides using thermal power plants for oxygen production.
In Latur, relatives of COVID-19 patients took to the streets on after a private hospital claimed a shortage of oxygen.
Last week, at least six COVID-19 patients died in the ICU of a government hospital in Madhya Pradesh's Shahdol allegedly due to low pressure in the medical oxygen supply.
Expressing concern over the situation, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said, "India is among the largest producing countries in the field of oxygen, medicine and vaccine production. Yet deaths are occurring due to lack of oxygen and medicines in the country, which is unfortunate."
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, seeking a daily allocation of at least 120 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen for the state.
The Tamil Nadu government said it would take up with the Centre, diversion of about 45 metric tonnes of medical oxygen from a city plant to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, even as it asserted that the state had adequate stocks of oxygen.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed the officials to install GPS devices on oxygen tankers and provide adequate security to oxygen plants.
The railways said on Wednesday it will run its second Oxygen Express to Uttar Pradesh after a request was received from the state government. The railways also
said that it had received a similar request from Madhya Pradesh.
The Maharashtra government too had written to the railways to explore whether liquid medical oxygen tankers could be moved by the
In Delhi, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said, "We are producing 7,500 metric tonnes of oxygen per day of which 6,600 metric tonnes is being allocated to the states for medical purposes."
"Presently, we have issued instructions that, leaving a few industries, the supply of industries will be restricted so that more and more oxygen can be made available for medical use," he said.
Bhushan said that a 24x7 control room has been set up where the state governments can tell the problems they are facing if their truck is stuck or the movement is getting hindered. "When you deal with such a huge challenge, such a big pandemic and multiple stakeholders, then at times there is panic and confusion and the onus and responsibility is on the Union government and state governments to work together and respond promptly so these challenges are addressed," he said.
The officials said they are also evaluating applications from suppliers abroad for import of oxygen.
The Centre has floated a tender for import of 50,000 MT of medical oxygen and a pre-bidding meeting was held yesterday, according to official sources.