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Is there an oxygen scarcity in India due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases

Several reports suggest scarcity while officials have denied

There were reports of COVID-19 patients dying in a hospital in Madhya Pradesh due to lack of adequate oxygen last week. However, the claim was rejected by the officials. AIIMS in Jodhpur, Rajasthan whose 400 reserved beds for COVID-19 is almost full and 100 of the total 110 ICU beds are occupied, faced scarcity of oxygen in the hospital. As per reports, 2 oxygen tanks were empty because of a shortage in supply.

As India opens up its economy and people return to work, including the migrant workers who had migrated to their hometown, when railway services were resumed, the coronavirus cases continue to surge in huge numbers. The country has witnessed 51,18,253 COVID-19 cases so far in which 40,25,079 have recovered, 10,09,976 are active cases and 83,198 people have died. The last 7 days average of daily coronavirus cases stands around 91,000. Clearly the cases are rising at a very high rate in the country.

A Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation reportedly said that they have received reports from multiple hospitals about decreasing oxygen supplies. He had said that demand has increased for oxygen due to a large number of COVID-19 cases.

The rise of Coronavirus cases has increased the demand for Oxygen

With huge numbers of cases every day, hospital beds are filling fast. The need for oxygen cylinder has increased subsequently. There are more than 11 lakhs active cases in the country and as per the health ministry, 6 percent of the total case requires oxygen cylinders.

In Lucknow, the total requirement for an oxygen cylinder is 5,000 currently, while it was only 1,000 in the normal times. As per All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, hospitals, and COVID-19 care centers across the country are consuming up to around 2,700 tonnes of oxygen. In the month of April, the required number was just 750 tonnes.

Most oxygen plants in the country are built near cities and big towns. So, for rural areas where COVID-19 patients are increasing rapidly, special trucks are used to carry cryogenic tanks. We have about 1,500 such trucks in the country. Many states including New Delhi, don’t have a single oxygen manufacturer and all the demands are met from neighboring regions.

Read more: After Stating No Data on Migrant Workers, the Government has now got no Data on Healthcare Staff

The situation in the worst affected state- Maharashtra

According to a report by Indian Express, north Maharashtra and Marathwada regions in the state faced a shortage of medical oxygen supply.

A man on a ventilator battled for life last Friday at Sparsh hospital in Osmanabad. Hospital staffs had to make frantic calls to their oxygen suppliers.

Maharashtra requires oxygen support for 2,000 to 3,000 new patients every day. In critical cases, 40 to 60-liter oxygen is required in a minute.

Majority of the oxygen conversion or oxygen generation plants are located in Mumbai, Kolhapur, Pune, and Nagpur belt leaving the remaining districts to struggle with a lack of supply.

The Uddhav Thackeray led Maharashtra government had issued a notification on September 9 for the oxygen suppliers to not sell more than 20 percent of their cylinders outside the state. The state government’s move to stabilize the oxygen need of the state, affected Madhya Pradesh as it largely depends on Maharashtra and Gujrat for oxygen needs.

Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan reached out to Maharashtra CM to discuss the resumption of oxygen supplies. Later the Union Health Ministry issued directives to all the states and UTs to not restrict the movement of oxygen between them. The directive said that it is every state’s responsibility to ensure that every COVID-19 patient that requires oxygen, receives it.

The impact of oxygen demand

As the rule goes, more demand means prices will go up. The same happened in the oxygen cases. The escalation in demand has also shot up prices. Reports suggest that the cost to refill a cylinder has increased to Rs 700 from Rs 350, a 100 percent rise in the cost. Also, the installation cost of oxygen cylinders has increased.

As the factories and industries have resumed their work, oxygen demand has increased in industries too. Saket Tikku, President of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturing Associations said that 55 percent of the total produced oxygen is given to hospitals while 45 percent are being given to industries. According to experts, the country needs to increase the capacity of producing oxygen to make sure that both patients and industries don’t suffer.

We talked to Dr Vivek Kumar, Medical Officer in Government Doon Medical College, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, regarding the issue. He said, “No, we have sufficient oxygen supply in our hospital and there has not been any case of death, due to scarcity of oxygen here. The numbers of patients have definitely increased in the last few months, but we get adequate oxygen supply to accommodate everyone.”

What does the government have to say about oxygen scarcity?

The Health Ministry of India cleared that there is no scarcity of medical oxygen in the country amid the reports of its scarcity. In a press conference, Health Secretary Rajesh Ranjan said that there is no scarcity, in fact, there is a surplus of 1900 metric tonnes. He further explained the situation saying that the country has the capacity to produce more than 6,900 metric tonnes of oxygen while the daily consumption amongst COVID-19 and the non-coronavirus patient is 2,800 metric tonnes daily. According to the official, the problem lies in inventory management.

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