Centre Addresses States' Oxygen SOS With Various Measures Amid Covid Crisis

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The Centre on Sunday announced various measures to address the issue of flailing oxygen supply in states, including Maharashtra and Delhi, as their healthcare infrastructure and medical stocks choke under burgeoning infections. The Centre will provide supplementary stocks of oxygen to states, run special ‘oxygen trains’ and has even prohibited its use for industrial purposes.

Medical-grade oxygen is used for the treatment of critical COVID-19 patients and in other cases of respiratory diseases.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal, after an elaborate meeting with 12 states, said that the government has mapped the requirements of each state and has decided to release 6,177 metric tonnes of oxygen.

Of this, worst-affected Maharashtra has been allotted the biggest share of 1,500 metric tonnes, Delhi 350 metric tonnes and Uttar Pradesh 800 metric tonnes, he said.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, our daily medical oxygen consumption was around 1,000-1,200 metric tonnes. But on April 15, 4,795 metric tonnes of medical oxygen was used in the country. We’ve increased production capacity in the last one year,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.

Govt steps up amid scarcity

The Centre has also banned the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes except in nine specified industries in view of shortage of the essential public health commodity in several states amid a spike in COVID-19 infections. The decision will come into effect from April 22.

In a communication to all states, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that in view of the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and resultant rapid demand for medical oxygen, particularly in high-burden states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, the central government-constituted Empowered Group-II has reviewed the supply of oxygen for industrial use in order to divert the same to meet the rising demand for medical oxygen in the country and save precious lives. Accordingly, the EG-II has recommended to prohibit the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes by manufacturers and suppliers from April 22 till further orders, with exceptions of nine specified industries.

The Centre has also expedited the installation of 162 PSA oxygen generation plants in health facilities across the country, while the Railways announced special trains to transport the life-saver and several industry majors pitched in by diverting supply to hospitals.

These measures come on a day record single-day rise of 2,61,500 coronavirus infections took India’s total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,47,88,109. Authorities in the worst-hit states admitted they were running short of beds, ventilators and medicines.

Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said all possible support is being extended to states to double production of Remdesivir drug, ensure uninterrupted supply of oxygen and Covid-19 vaccines, besides enhancing healthcare infrastructure. The setting up of 162 PSA oxygen plants in public health facilities is being expedited and a 24X7 cell is coordinating with the states, he said.

“These will augment medical oxygen capacity by 154.19 MT,” the health ministry tweeted. The PSA plants manufacture oxygen and help hospitals become self-sufficient in their requirement for medical oxygen, while also reducing the burden on the national grid for its supply of medical oxygen.

Earlier, the ministry had decided to float a tender for the import of 50,000 MT of medical oxygen. The Railways said it will run ‘Oxygen Express’ trains over the next few days to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country.

“Since the first empty tankers will move on April 19, we hope to begin operations of Oxygen Express over the next few days. We would be able to send oxygen wherever there is such demand. A green corridor is being created for fast movement of Oxygen Express trains,” an official said. Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments had approached the Railways Ministry to explore whether liquid medical oxygen tankers could be moved by the rail network, officials said.

The country’s largest steel-maker SAIL, Tata Steel and ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India (AMNS India) said they were supplying medical oxygen to health facilities. “Responding to the national urgency, we are supplying 200-300 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen daily to various state governments and hospitals. We are in this fight together and will surely win it! @PMOIndia @TataCompanies,” Tata Steel said in a tweet.

“@SAILsteel supplied more than 33,300 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen (#LMO) of 99.7 per cent purity of #Oxygen for #COVIDRelief from its integrated steel plants,” SAIL said on Twitter.

According to the steel ministry, 28 oxygen plants located in the steel facility of both public and private sectors are supplying about 1,500 tonnes of medical oxygen every day.

Also, an additional stock of 30,000 MT, including the safety stock, is being made available for medical use. The positivity rate has doubled in the last 12 days to 16.69 per cent and 10 states — Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan — reported 78.56 per cent of the new infections, the health ministry said.

“Over 9,000 new coronavirus cases are emerging in Gujarat every day. Though we are adding new facilities and beds at regular intervals, it falls short against the demand as the inflow of coronavirus patients is much higher,” Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel told reporters at civil hospital campus in Ahmedabad. As a long queue of ambulances with coronavirus patients waited outside the civil hospital, Patel said it is the government’s obligation to save each and every patient turned away by other hospitals.

Maharashtra and Delhi, which are among the worst hit, have already sounded the Centre on the shortage of beds, oxygen, medicines and COVID vaccine. 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, according to a hospital official.

Over 25,000 more people tested Covid-19 positive in the last 24 hours in the national capital and less than 100 ICU beds remain available in hospitals, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, highlighting the grim situation.

The Northern Railways has deployed 50 isolation coaches, each having two oxygen cylinders, at Delhi’s Shakur Basti railway station and 25 such facilities will be placed at Anand Vihar by Monday, General Manager Ashutosh Gangal said. Similar facilities were being provided in Maharashtra and other states.

Consistent spike in cases

Registering a steady increase for the 39th day in a row, the active cases stand at 18,01,316, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate has dropped to 86.62 per cent.

“The daily positivity rate in the last 12 days has doubled from 8 per cent to 16.69 per cent,” the health ministry said in a statement. “The national weekly positivity rate has increased from 3.05 per cent to 13.54 per cent in the last one month.”

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