No need to panic, India has enough oxygen stock: Home Ministry

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New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) Asking people not to panic over the availability of medical oxygen, the Centre on Monday asserted that the country has enough stock of the life-saving gas and that the key issue of its transportation to high-demand areas witnessing mounting COVID-19 cases was being addressed in the best possible way, even by roping in the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Addressing a media briefing here, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Piyush Goyal highlighted the efforts that have been undertaken by the government in providing oxygen to hospitals in areas with high COVID-19 cases at the earliest.

'Ghabrayen nahin, panic mat karen (Don't worry, don't panic). We have enough stock of oxygen. The issue is transportation. Transportation is a major challenge which we are trying to resolve by active involvement of all stakeholders,' he said.

'There is absolutely no need to panic for oxygen as we are trying to resolve the issue of oxygen transportation from the producing states to high-demand areas,' Goyal said, adding the oxygen producing states were mainly located in eastern and central India, indicating that it is far from the states where oxygen demand is high.

Twenty people died at Delhi's Jaipur Golden Hospital last Saturday, their lives ebbing as the hospital waited for oxygen to be replenished.

Last week, hospitals across the national capital and its suburbs, including Ganga Ram and Max Healthcare as well as smaller facilities, sounded the alarm about dwindling stocks on social media and other platforms. Desperate for help, some hospitals approached the Delhi High Court, which termed the mounting cases a tsunami.

Goyal said that since it was not possible to ferry oxygen-filled tankers by air, the Indian Air Force transport planes were pressed into service to airlift empty containers to reduce the turn-around time from 4-5 days to 1-2 hours.

He said special trains are being run for faster movement of oxygen tankers and since Friday, the home ministry has been coordinating efforts to deploy empty tankers and containers in various filling stations across the country to speed up its distribution.

He said the central government is also monitoring the movement of oxygen-carrying tankers on real-time basis through GPS and making them available to the hospitals at the shortest possible time.

He said states have been told to advise the hospitals for judicious use of oxygen and to plug leakage, if any.

The central government has taken a number of steps to deal with the medical oxygen crisis in some parts of the country due to the increasing demand as the second wave of coronavirus engulfed several states.

The government is also getting cryogenic tanks from countries like Singapore and the UAE to transport oxygen, and sourcing oxygen concentrators from the United States.

Also, Goyal said, security is being given to oxygen-carrying tankers besides providing 'green corridors' for faster movement.

The coronavirus situation continues to be grim in India with 3,52,991 people testing positive and a record 2,812 deaths reported on Monday.

Meanwhile, a day after putting a ban on the use of liquid oxygen for non-medical purposes, the government on Monday allowed three sectors -- ampules and vials, pharmaceutical and defence forces -- to use the commodity.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla had on Sunday imposed a ban on the use of liquid oxygen for non-medical purposes, amid a scarcity of medical oxygen in many parts of the country, particularly in Delhi, that have been hit by a fresh wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to states and Union Territories, Bhalla said that three sectors -- ampules and vials, pharmaceutical, and defence forces -- have now been exempted from the ban order.

The Centre has also asked all states and Union Territories to implement an intensive, local and focused containment framework, stressing on specific districts and areas to snap the chain of transmission.

In a communication to all states and UTs, Union Home Secretary Bhalla reiterated the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's April 25 advisory on containment strategy and said the district authorities should be sensitised on the strategy for imposing restrictions and it should be widely disseminated to the public and to the field functionaries for their effective implementation.

Bhalla said that in the recent past, a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases has been observed along with high positivity rate.

Considering this unprecedented spike, he said, there is an urgent need for states and UTs to consider strict COVID-19 management and control measures in the surge areas to bring the situation under control.

Accordingly, he said, the Health Ministry has advised all state and UT governments to implement an intensive, local and focused containment framework, focused on specific districts, cities, areas, and identified based on a prescribed criterion.

All states and UTs have also been advised to consider a further graded response in accordance with local situation, requirements and resources. PTI ACB SKL SMN SMN