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Karnataka gasps for breath as second Covid wave hits hard

According to the data on hospitalised patients, the requirement of oxygen in the ongoing second wave is higher at 54.5 per cent than 41.1 percent in the first wave.

Published: 25th April 2021 03:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2021 03:45 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

With a whopping 29,438 cases added to push the state’s Covid tally over the 13-lakh mark and the number of cases currently under treatment to 2,34,483 on Saturday, the demand for oxygen has shot up. According to the data on hospitalised patients, the requirement of oxygen in the ongoing second wave is higher at 54.5 per cent than 41.1 percent in the first wave.

Of the active cases, 1,280 patients are in ICU, but many non-ICU patients too are in need of oxygen beds as their oxygen saturation levels are low. There have been many instances of patients not getting the life-saving gas. In the second wave, people are coming down with breathlessness and depleted oxygen levels. The fear of lack of oxygen and hospital beds has created a panic among people.

Bengaluru has emerged as the epicentre of oxygen tragedy, mainly because the demand has spiralled. On Saturday, the city saw a whopping 17,342 fresh Covid cases, taking the tally to 6,32,923. With such a surge in cases, the demand for oxygen in the city has gone up five times, say doctors from some reputed hospitals. Hospitals are reporting a “hand-to-mouth” existence in terms of oxygen at present. But they are scared of a scenario where cases multiply and the health infrastructure not able to meet the demand for oxygen.

Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research, Balram Bhargava explains that one of the reasons for oxygen shortage is the panic among people and an increase in the number of admissions even among those who don’t require hospitalisation. In Mysuru, despite district in-charge minister ST Somashekhar’s insistence that there is no dearth of oxygen or beds, many patients have died because of non-availability of oxygen beds and ventilators at several private and government hospitals.

Though district administration says that over 50 high-flow nasal oxygen beds, 443 oxygenated beds, 46 ventilators and 68 ICU beds are vacant, most private hospitals have been denying admission, citing non-availability of beds. Senior citizens, especially those with comorbidities and low oxygen levels, are denied admission, forcing them to knock on the doors of officials concerned. But with precious time lost, they either end up dead or suddenly require ICU beds with the condition worsening all because oxygen was denied to them at the right moment.

Chief Secretary P Ravi Kumar says the oxygen shortage is being felt acutely in smaller hospitals. “Big hospitals do not have any shortage because they have oxygen tanks. It is the smaller hospitals that are facing an acute shortage because they use oxygen cylinders, which are refilled every third day. Refilling takes time,” he says. But TNSE found that even big hospitals have started feeling the pinch now.

“The problem is multifold. There is a serious issue with distribution and supply. The State has 94 tankers and almost all are now transporting oxygen. With an unprecedented daily caseload, the hospitals may require more oxygen, but they don’t have the infrastructure to store or use it. Many private hospitals have written to the government that while they can increase the bed strength further, they don’t have the logistics to store or use additional oxygen,” says Kumar.

There are eight units in Ballari and Vijayanagara. Each of which are capable of producing 30-40 tonnes of oxygen per day. The steel major JSW itself has four oxygen producing units. These units manufacture nearly half of all the oxygen produced in the two districts. “For the last one month, the production has been doubled in these plants. Workers are being paid double for overtime,” said an official from the industries department.

The four plants in Ballari Air Water India (formerly known as Praxair India), JSW Industrial Gases, Linde India and Bellary Oxygen Company — have upped their daily oxygen output from 200 metric tonnes (MT) per day to 400-425 MT. Till July 2020, their daily output was between 120 and 150 MT. The plants have optimised their production and are willing to further upgrade, but there is no infrastructure to support accelerated manufacture, supply and distribution of oxygen. Mainly, Bengaluru and Mysuru are facing the shortage of oxygen. Other parts of the state, with comparatively lower cases and faster access to oxygen, are better off.

For instance, in Uttara Kannada, the only Oxygen supplier in Kumta taluk is catering to the needs of all Covid hospitals in the district. The administration has ensured that there is no scarcity at any hospital. “We have started producing three times more Oxygen than earlier to meet the requirement of the district. We have canceled supplies to other industries and are focusing only on hospitals,” says Yash Momaya, who owns the oxygen supply company, Padma Gas Agency.

The private unit at Bettaguli in Kumta taluk caters to oxygen requirements of Karwar Institute of Medical Sciences and other private hospitals. “Earlier, we used to supply 200 cylinders every day, now we are supplying 600 cylinders. The district administration has asked us to boost the production further,” he says. The company has a storage plant and ensures there is no scarcity in the district.

Similarly, there is no shortage in Vijayapura and Bagalkot districts too. Vijayapura District Health Officer Rajkumar Yaragal says, “We are not facing the shortage as majority of Covid-infected persons are asymptomatic and are under home isolation. There are less than 40 per cent active cases in hospitals. The district civil hospital also has a liquid medical oxygen plant, which has a capacity of 6,000 litres. Apart from this, we also have the continuous supply of jumbo cylinders.”

Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s home district Shivamogga too has not faced any shortage of oxygen so far. The District McGann Hospital is equipped with 1,180 oxygen beds. According to District Surgeon Dr Shreenivas G, 180 oxygen beds are occupied. Fortunately, the district has not witnessed deaths due to shortage of oxygen and no patient has suffered. “Oxygen is refilled every alternate day. There is a liquid oxygen plant at Shikaripura, which ensures there is no shortage in the district,” he says.
Oxygen suppliers at Nipani and Belagavi have also been instructed to keep medical oxygen available ready for supplies to government and private hospitals of Belagavi.
 
Inputs from Bala Chauhan; Kiran Balannanavar; Subhash Chandra N S; Mahesh Goudar; Sunil Patil



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