New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) Urging the people not to panic over the pandemic situation, the government on Monday said it was trying to address the problem of transportation of medical oxygen to high-demand areas and roped in retired medical personnel of the armed forces to work in COVID-19 facilities as daily cases hit a new peak at 3,52,991 with a record 2,812 more fatalities.
With no let-up in the second wave, Karnataka imposed a 14-day shutdown, after Delhi and Jharkhand took a similar step last week, while lockdown-like restrictions including night curfew continued in many other states.
Delhi and Karnataka joined a host of others states who have announced free vaccine for all adults from May 1, when the eligibility age for the vaccination will be relaxed to 18 years.
Urging the people to get vaccinated and observe COVID-19-appropriate behaviour, the government said it is time they start wearing masks inside their homes as well. Addressing a press conference, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul said a COVID-positive person must wear the mask inside the house as well to prevent other family members from getting infected.
Amid more disquieting developments related to the shortage of oxygen in hospitals in high caseload states including the death of five patients in Haryana, the government asserted that there is adequate stock of the life-saving gas.
'We have enough stock of oxygen. The issue is transportation which we are trying to resolve by the active involvement of all stakeholders,' Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Piyush Goyal said.
“There is absolutely no need to panic for oxygen,' Goel said, adding the central government is monitoring the movement of oxygen tankers on a real-time basis through GPS and making them available to hospitals at the shortest possible time.
In the last few days, hospitals in Delhi, Punjab, Maharashtra and Haryana have reported deaths amid the shortage of medical oxygen. The Centre has deployed IAF planes and trains to assist in transportation of oxygen while cryogenic tankers were being imported from abroad.
The government also pitched for expediting the pace of the vaccination drive and asserted that women can take COVID-19 vaccine during menstruation as well.
It stressed that rational use of medical oxygen and appropriate prescription of drugs such as Remdesivir, Tocilizumab are critical in the fight against the pandemic, amid complaints of their shortage.
A day after banning 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 Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Lav Agarwal said many people have been found to be occupying hospital beds out of panic.
Hospital admission should only be on the advice of doctors, he stressed.
AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria had earlier said that hoarding of oxygen and injections like remdesivir in homes is creating panic and causing a shortage of these medicines.
'COVID-19 is a mild infection and 85-90 per cent people will only suffer from cold, fever, sore throat and bodyache. Only symptomatic treatment at home is enough to ride through these infections and there is no need for oxygen or remdesivir,' he was quoted as saying in a Health Ministry statement.
India's total tally of COVID-19 cases has climbed to a staggering 1,73,13,163 while active cases have crossed the 28-lakh mark, amid a crippling shortage of beds, oxygen and other medical amenities.
The death toll increased to 1,95,123 with a record 2,812 new fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday morning.
The 2,812 new fatalities include 832 from Maharashtra, 350 from Delhi and 206 from Uttar Pradesh.
The Supreme Court has also advanced its summer vacation, which will now commence work from May 8, in view of the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases.
With an unprecedented pressure on healthcare personnel due to the pandemic, the government said all medical personnel of the armed forces who have retired or have taken pre-mature retirement in the last two years are being recalled to work in COVID-19 facilities within proximity of their present place of residence.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about this decision as they reviewed preparations and operations being undertaken by the armed forces to deal with the second wave of the pandemic raging across the country.
Other medical officers who retired from the armed forces earlier than two years have also been requested to make their services available for consultation through medical emergency helplines, a statement said.
Modi reviewed the operations being undertaken by Indian Air Force as well to transport empty oxygen tankers and other essentials in India and from abroad.
An Indian Air Force aircraft was on Monday sent to Dubai to airlift seven empty cryogenic oxygen containers, officials said.
Earlier, four cryogenic tanks for transportation of oxygen were brought from Singapore by IAF on Saturday.
“IAF C-17 aircraft reached Dubai today to airlift more empty O2 containers to supplement efforts to enhance oxygen availability in current COVID-19 surge. Effort is being coordinated by MHA,' a home ministry spokesperson tweeted.
Pitching in, Air India brought 328 oxygen concentrators to India on its New York-Delhi flight on Monday.
The cumulative number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country has crossed 14.19 crore as the world's largest vaccination drive completed 100 days on April 25, the Union Health Ministry said.
Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala account for 58.7 percent of the cumulative doses given so far in the country, the ministry said.
The ministry also said that these states along with Delhi and Tamil Nadu have reported 74.5 percent of the new cases.
Maharashtra has reported the highest daily new cases at 66,191. It is followed by Uttar Pradesh with 35,311 while Karnataka reported 34,804 new cases.
'Strict measures to control COVID will be taken. From tomorrow night till next 14 days there will be a close down for the whole state,' Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa announced.
Various hospitals across the country continue to grapple with a severe shortage of medical oxygen on Monday even after receiving emergency supplies.
Five COVID-19 patients, including one from Delhi, died at a private hospital in Haryana’s Hisar with relatives of the deceased holding a protest attributing their death to an alleged grave shortage of medical oxygen at the facility.
It happened within 24 hours of two similar incidents in Haryana, wherein eight people died in two private facilities in Rewari and Gurgaon allegedly due to shortage of medical oxygen.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said a magisterial probe has been ordered into the incidents. At the same time, he ruled any shortage of medical oxygen in the state.
Three COVID-19 patients on ventilators with high flow oxygen died due to technical issues in supplying the life saving gas in Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, officials said.
Tamil Nadu has decided to allow Vedanta's Sterlite Industries in Tuticorin to produce oxygen for four months amid surging covid cases, paving the way for the partial reopening of the copper smelter closed in 2018 over pollution concerns.
Vedanta said it was committed to making the entire production capacity of 1,000 tonnes available for producing medical-grade oxygen and that it was working to dispatch it to critical areas in the state on priority.
Also on Monday, the Madras High Court castigated the Election Commission over the COVID-19 second wave in the country, holding it 'singularly' responsible for the spread as it called it the 'the most irresponsible institution' and even said its officials may be booked under murder charges.
The EC allowing political parties to take out rallies and meetings had led to the spread of the pandemic, the court said.
The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the stinging observation on a public interest litigation.
The judges also orally warned that they would not hesitate to stop the counting of votes on May 2.
The state had reported 15,000 new cases on Sunday, while its active cases are more than one lakh.
Elections have been held in four states--Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and West Bengal -- and the union territory of Puducherry and the counting of polled votes will be taken up on May 2.
The seventh penultimate phase of polling in West Bengal was held Monday, with the last phase scheduled on April 29.
Meanwhile, more countries have offered assistance to India to meet the COVID challenge. Google CEO Sundar Pichai and his Microsoft counterpart Satya Nadella have also assured of help.
'Devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India. Google & Googlers are providing Rs 135 crore in funding to @GiveIndia, @UNICEF for medical supplies, orgs supporting high-risk communities, and grants to help spread critical information,' Indian-origin Google CEO Pichai said in a tweet.
US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have assured India and its people of providing all assistance, including urgently sending necessary medical life-saving supplies and equipment, to help the country combat the deadly coronavirus crisis.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” Biden said in a tweet.
Several Indian-American organisations have launched fundraising campaigns to fight the pandemic in India.
Australia said it will send oxygen, ventilators and personal protective equipment to India as part of an immediate support package.
Britain, Germany and the European Union have earlier announced that they were sending assistance to India., PTI TEAM PLB VIT BUN MPB DSP KSU SA SUN VSD SHK RT RT