COVID active cases cross 25 lakh after another record surge; All hands on deck as defence, railways, industry pitch in to provide fast-draining oxygen, other medical supplies

·8-min read

New Delhi, Apr 24 (PTI) The first two trains carrying precious medical oxygen arrived in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, health facilities in defence undertakings were opened to civilian COVID patients and IAF aircraft crisscrossed to carry empty oxygen tankers and replenish the fast-draining medical amenities as the pandemic situation turned grim in India with a new daily high of 3.46 lakh cases and 2,624 fatalities on Saturday.

Twenty six patients died in two hospitals which complained of oxygen shortage in Delhi and Amritsar while many other health facilities said they were struggling to meet the oxygen needs of the patients and appealed to the governments for help.

With a glaring gap in demand and supply, the Centre announced exemption of basic customs duty on import of COVID vaccine, medical-grade oxygen and related equipment to boost domestic availability and directed the customs department to clear all import consignments, including life-saving drugs and equipment, used in COVID treatment on the highest priority.

The decisions were taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boost oxygen availability in the country, as the active cases crossed the 25-lakh mark.

'The PM emphasised that there was an immediate need to augment the supply of medical grade oxygen as well as equipment required for patient care both at home and in hospitals. The PM stressed that all ministries and departments need to work in synergy to increase the availability of oxygen and medical supplies,' a statement said.

Twenty people died at Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital as it waited for oxygen to be replenished, officials said on day five of a deepening crisis over the scarcity of oxygen vital to save critically ill COVID patients.

'Oxygen pressure has dipped as we are running out of stock,' Medical Director D K Baluja told PTI as news came of patients dying through the night.

Six patients died at a private hospital in Amritsar allegedly due to a shortage of oxygen, prompting Punjab authorities to order a probe into the incident.

'Despite the district administration being repeatedly asked to extend help, no one turned up to do the needful,' Sunil Devgan, the chairman and managing director of Neelkant hospital where the deaths occurred, alleged.

However, Punjab Medical Education Minister O P Soni refuted the charge and claimed that no proper information was given by the hospital about any shortage of oxygen.

Every few hours, as it has been for the last days, hospitals across the national capital and its suburbs sent out desperate messages of help on social media and other platforms, flagging their dwindling stocks of oxygen.

A day after 25 patients died at the Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the city’s biggest and most high-profile health facilities, the court asked the Centre about the preparedness to deal with the expected COVID-19 second wave peak in mid-May, terming the mounting cases as a 'tsunami', and also warned it will 'hang' any person who tries to obstruct oxygen supplies to hospitals here.

Talking tough, a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said this during a special three-hour-long hearing on a holiday on the issue of escalating oxygen crisis in various hospitals in Delhi.

'We will not spare anyone,' the bench said.

But many hospitals in the national capital continued to grapple with oxygen scarcity and some have now asked families of patients to shift them to other facilities.

'We've run out of oxygen completely, even the backup,' Batra Hospital executive director Sudhanshu Bankata told PTI. 'We feel helpless, have started asking families to take patients to other healthcare facilities where oxygen is available.' In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, an Oxygen Express train carrying three tankers of liquid medical oxygen from Bokaro in Jharkhand arrived this morning via a green corridor.

'Two trucks of medical oxygen arrived in Lucknow around 6.30 am while one truck was offloaded in Varanasi. Each truck has a capacity of 15,000 litres of medical oxygen,' Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi told PTI.

Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh said it will significantly ease the current situation in the state.

The state on Saturday recorded its highest single-day spike in new infections and coronavirus-related deaths with 38,055 fresh cases and 223 fatalities, pushing the virus tally to 10,51,314 and the toll to 10,959, according to an official statement.

Another Oxygen Express from Visakhapatnam reached Nashik in Maharashtra where four tankers were unloaded.

Last Sunday, the railways had announced that it would run 'Oxygen Express' trains over the next few days to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said all health facilities of defence public sector undertakings and Ordnance Factory Board have been allowed to provide health services to civilians infected with the coronavirus.

Four cryogenic tanks, to be used for transporting oxygen, were flown from Singapore by C17 heavy-lift transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force.

C-17 aircraft also carried four empty oxygen containers from Pune in Maharashtra and one from Indore in Madhya Pradesh to filling stations in Jamnagar in Gujarat.

The IAF airlifted to Ladakh medical equipment weighing 1,700 kg, including bio-safety cabinets and centrifuges, which will help augment COVID-19 testing facilities in the union territory, officials said.

Besides, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is adding another 250 beds by Saturday evening at its Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Covid Hospital near the Delhi airport.

Singh said work is in full swing to establish a COVID-19 treatment facility in Lucknow that would become operational in the next five-six days, adding the hospitals would be run by the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) in coordination with the Uttar Pradesh government.

The three services as well as other wings of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have been extending support to various state governments and union territories in dealing with massive spike in coronavirus cases.

Since Friday, the Indian Air Force airlifted empty oxygen tankers and containers to various filling stations across the country to speed up the distribution of the much-needed medical oxygen in treating COVID-19 patients.

The IAF has also been transporting essential medicines as well as equipment required by the designated COVID hospitals in various parts of the country.

A record single-day rise of 3,46,786 coronavirus cases pushed India's tally of infection to 1,66,10,481, while active cases crossed the 25-lakh mark, according to the health ministry's data updated at 8 AM on Saturday.

The death toll rose to 1,89,544 with a record 2,624 more fatalities in a day.

Ten states, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, reported 74.15 percent of the new COVID-19 cases Also, 12 states are displaying an upward trajectory in daily cases. These are Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal.

Most of these states have imposed night curfew, weekend shutdown and other lockdown-like restrictions.

In Kerala, lockdown-like curbs came into force for 48 hours with only essential services and emergency activities being allowed and a holiday declared for government offices and PSUs.

'We are sitting on a volcano which can explode any moment. People should understand the situation and take adequate precaution to protect themselves,' Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, stressing that the situation was grim The state reported over 26,000 fresh cases.

Cinemas, places of worship, malls, bars and salons must be shut effective April 26, the Tamil Nadu government announced reintroducing more curbs following surging COVID-19 cases.

The central government, meanwhile, has also decided that basic customs duty on import of COVID vaccines be also waived with immediate effect for a period of three months.

The 16 oxygen and related equipment on which duty has been waived include oxygen concentrator along with flow meter, regulator, connectors and tubing, oxygen canister, filling systems, storage tanks, cylinders, including cryogenic cylinders and tank.

'This will boost the availability of these items as well as make them cheaper. The PM directed the Revenue Department to ensure seamless and quick customs clearance of such equipment,' the statement said.

Earlier, the government waived import duty on Remdesivir injection, and also banned its export. It had also allowed the emergency use of imported vaccines to curb the spread of coronavirus infections.

Ahead of the roll-out of vaccination of people aged between 18 and 45 from May 1, the Centre asked states to register additional private vaccination centres and ensure effective crowd management at sites and stressed on inoculation through 'only online registration' for beneficiaries in the age bracket.

Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir announced free vaccine for all, joining several other states like UP, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. PTI PLB GVS MPB JD BAL MG VT HMP MR AMP NAV CHS VSD UD RRT RT RT RT