Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Friday reviewed the situation arising out of the surge in COVID-19 cases acros the country and directed measures to augment the supply of oxygen for medical purposes amid complaints of shortage by several states. Shah directed an expert group to optimise and rationalise the allocation of oxygen to various states and UTs according to the needs.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday directed the governments of states and UTs, under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to ensure uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen, provide security to vehicles carrying it and facilitate exclusive corridors for the smooth and fast transportation. Meanwhile, it has prohibited the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except those for few essential sectors.
Further, to ensure ready availability of oxygen, the ministry has also asked the district collectors or deputy commissioners of the states and UTs to handover a list all the oxygen plants, mentioning what types of oxygen is generated, along with the installed capacity. The districts have also been asked to revive the plants that are lying closed.
The Indian Air Force and the Indian Railways have also been roped in to expedite the process of providing oxygen to states as the COVID-19 cases explode across the country. The IAF has started transporting empty tankers after delivery of oxygen to destination states and UTs to oxygen producing locations to reduce movement time, a statement by the ministry said. The home ministry has also taken steps to make available additional tankers for movement of oxygen. IAF transport planes have been deployed to coordinate lifting of high capacity tankers from Singapore and UAE.
The Indian Air Force has so far airlifted 8 empty cryogenic oxygen containers from Begumpet to Bhubaneshwar, 1 from Indore to Jamnagar by C17 aircrafts. Further, equipments and personnel of the IAF Rapid Action Medical Team (RAMT) were airlifted from Jorhat to Hindan by a C130 transport.
Meanwhile, the Railway Ministry has started ‘Oxygen Express’ trains to transport liquid medical oxygen tankers across the country amid demands from several states including Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. On Sunday, the Railways had announced it will run ‘Oxygen Express’ over the next few days to transport oxygen across the country. Under the initiative, empty tankers will be loaded with liquid medical oxygen from Visakhapatnam, Jamshedpur, Rourkela and Bokaro.
To ensure optimal use and zero wastage of medical oxygen, the MHA and the Health Ministry has been in regular contact with the states and UTs and will conduct periodic audits to keep a check.
The Centre has also decided to immediately install DRDO-Tata Sons oxygen generation plants at various state-run hospitals like AIIMS, NIC Jhajjar, Safdarjung, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital among others, which shall have a capacity to generate 1,000 litres of oxygen per minute. The decision was taken at a high level meeting chaired by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan as he reviewed the status of oxygen availability at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here and various other central government hospitals, and the steps being taken for timely augmenting the supply.
In view of the unprecedented surge in the number of daily cases, the requirement of oxygen-supported and ICU beds in addition to adequate oxygen supply along with medicines and trained manpower has increased manifold, Vardhan said.