Record 3.49 lakh new COVID cases and 2,767 deaths; Liquid oxygen only to be supplied for medical use as shortage persists; Lockdown, curbs extended in Delhi, other states

·9-min read

New Delhi, Apr 25 (PTI) The Centre on Sunday directed all manufacturers to provide liquid oxygen only for medical purposes and said 551 oxygen generation plants will be set up, as India saw a record 3,49,691 new coronavirus infections and 2,767 fatalities amid a crippling shortage of medical amenities in the high-caseload states including Delhi where the lockdown was extended till May 3.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla directed the state and union territory governments to ensure that 'use of liquid oxygen is not allowed for any non-medical purpose”.

Also, “all manufacturing units may maximise their production of liquid oxygen, and make it available to the government for use for medical purposes only, with immediate effect and until further orders', the order issued under the Disaster Management Act said, days after the Centre restricted the use of oxygen to some industries.

As many as 551 dedicated pressure swing adsorption medical oxygen generation plants will be set up inside public health facilities across the country under the PM Cares Fund, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi directing that they should be made functional as soon as possible, officials said.

The prime minister on Sunday said the second wave of COVID-19 is testing people's capacity to endure pain and has shaken the country which was full of enthusiasm and self-confidence after successfully tackling the first wave.

“The government of India is applying its entire might to give a fillip to endeavours of state governments. The state governments too are trying their best to fulfil their responsibilities,' he said in his monthly Mann Ki Baat radio broadcast and appealed to all again to get vaccinated.

In the national capital, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the extension of the ongoing lockdown in Delhi for another week, saying the severity of COVID-19 is unabated and the positivity rate has been as high as 36 percent in the last few days.

The lockdown imposed on April 19 night till April 26 morning will now continue till 5 AM on May 3, he said.

'We will have to watch the situation for a few more days whether the cases decrease or increase,' he said.

Hospitals in the city have been grappling with oxygen shortage during the past week and over 40 deaths have been reported in the last few days from two hospitals.

Kejriwal on Sunday urged the industry to assist, a day after writing to chief ministers of states for helping with spare oxygen and tankers.

Four patients died at a private hospital in Haryana's Rewari on Sunday allegedly due to a shortage of medical oxygen following which the district administration launched an investigation to ascertain the reason behind the deaths.

The railways said its first Oxygen Express train for Delhi carrying around 70 tonnes of the life-saving gas in four tankers will reach on Monday night from Jindal Steel Works plant in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh.

The railways have chalked out plans to transport medical oxygen from Angul, Kalingnagar, Rourkela and Raigarh to Delhi and NCR region, Railway Board Chairman Suneet Sharma said, adding the Delhi government has been advised to get road tankers ready to obtain the oxygen.

On Saturday, two such trains reached Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra to address the shortage of medical oxygen and others will follow. Also, the railway has mapped routes for transporting oxygen to Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, urging for an increase in the state’s medical oxygen quota and cited an influx of patients from Delhi and other neighbouring states.

The total tally of COVID-19 cases has risen to 1,69,60,172, while the active cases have increased to 26,82,751 comprising 15.82 percent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate dropped to 83.05 percent, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday morning.

India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the one-crore mark on December 19 and the grim milestone of 1.50 crore on April 19.

The death toll increased to 1,92,311. The 2,767 new fatalities include 676 from Maharashtra, 357 from Delhi, 222 from Uttar Pradesh, 218 from Chhattisgarh, 208 from Karnataka, 152 from Gujarat and 110 from Jharkhand and 104 from Madhya Pradesh.

The opposition alleged that the deaths were being under-reported as crematoriums worked over-time.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said 'hiding data' and not sharing the total number of infections and deaths is doing a disservice to the nation. 'Shroud the truth. Deny oxygen shortage. Underreport deaths. Government of India (GOI) is doing save his fake image,' party leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.

Delhi recorded the highest single-day rise in its COVID-19 deaths with 357 more people succumbing to the viral disease on Saturday as well as over 24,000 fresh cases. Authorities have expanded a crematorium in southeast Delhi's Sarai Kale Khan area to cremate the bodies of COVID-19 victims at an adjacent park, officials.

The situation is equally grim in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

“The number of cremations has risen several-fold in the last week,' said Qamruddin, a Kanpur Municipal Corporation employee at the Bhairoghat electric crematorium.

From April 19 to April 24, Kanpur Nagar district officially recorded 66 COVID-19 deaths, while 406 cremations took place at Bhairoghat and 56 in Bhagwatghat alone. The Bhairoghat crematorium also includes an electric crematorium.

'Until last month, we were cremating less than 10 bodies a day, but for the last 10 days, we have been handling over 50 bodies every day,' Qamruddin said.

With 208 COVID-19 more deaths reported in Uttar Pradesh, the death toll has risen to 11,165. As many as new 35,614 fresh COVID-19 cases have taken the total count to 10,86,625.

Maharashtra, which is leading in the number of cases and deaths in the country, Gujarat, Odisha and Rajasthan said they will provide free vaccination to all, joining several other states.

India’s vaccination campaign is all set to get a major boost from May 1 when everyone above the age of 18 will be eligible for vaccine.

However, four states ruled by the Congress and its allies accused the Centre of 'hijacking' vaccine stocks from manufacturers and expressed doubts they would be able to launch the inoculation drive to cover those between 18-45 years of age from May 1.

Addressing a virtual joint press conference, the health ministers of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jharkhand (ruled by Congress-JMM alliance) said they are prepared for the next phase of vaccination drive from May 1, but the manufacturers have expressed inability to provide them vaccine shots.

'How do we vaccinate adults of 18-45 years as Serum Institute has said they will not be able to provide vaccine till May 15,' Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma said.

From May 1, while those aged 18 to 44 years will be eligible to receive the vaccination on payment from any of the private COVID vaccination centres (CVCs), they shall also be eligible to receive a jab from a government CVC in a state or Union Territory which decides to lower the minimum cut off age for eligibility for the free shots.

Several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh, have also announced free coronavirus vaccination for their adult population.

The registration of citizens in the 18-44 age group will start on the CoWIN portal from April 28.

The government has made it mandatory for the 18-44 age group to register themselves on the CoWIN portal and get an appointment for vaccination against coronavirus, saying walk-ins will not be allowed initially to avoid 'chaos' at immunisation centres once the inoculations drive opens up substantially.

However, those aged 45 years and above can still avail the facility of on-site registration to get vaccinated, officials said.

In a letter to states and UTs, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said each private CVC must declare on CoWIN, the vaccine type(s), the stocks of vaccines and the prices decided by it to be charged from the citizens, for vaccination services being offered from May 1.

Ten states, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, account for 74.53 percent of the new COVID-19 cases registered in a day, the Union Health Ministry said.

Weekend restrictions continued in the affected states and UTs. The Himachal Pradesh government imposed a night curfew in four districts of Kangra, Una, Solan and Sirmour from April 27 to May 10.

The 'corona curfew' imposed in Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal was extended till May 3, while Karnataka too appeared to be staring at stricter lockdown-like restrictions.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh announced it was closing its land borders with India for the next 14 days due to the unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases, while many countries like Iran, Kuwait, UAE, the UK and Canada have announced a ban on flights from India amid the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country.

At the same time, several countries offered assistance with the UK announcing that it was sending life-saving medical equipment including 600 ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government is 'urgently' preparing a 'mission of support' for India and said Germany stands in solidarity in the 'common fight' against the pandemic.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani too expressed solidarity with India and its foreign minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar said India has the prayers and support of all those nations that it has assisted generously with COVID-19 vaccines.

The European Union said it is pooling in resources to respond rapidly to help India's fight against the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed solidarity with India.

Air India will bring around 600 oxygen concentrators ordered by private entities on its two US-India flights in the next two days, aviation industry sources said.

Assam government said it has made arrangements to import oxygen from neighbouring Bhutan. PTI TEAM PLB ACB KR VIT GJS MPB NIT NAV MR ASG SKC DSP RT RT