With India’s single-day Covid-19 tally set to hit the 1 lakh mark, availability of oxygen for medical use has become the latest worry for the Centre and the states, particularly those where the cases are still surging. Struggling to meet the rising demand from hospitals for Covid-19 patients, some states are resorting to measures like capping the use of oxygen for industrial purposes and restricting inter-state supply. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab are among the states facing oxygen shortage while almost the states have seen a big increase in demand. The Centre, on its part, has put the onus on the states to ensure the availability of oxygen and has directed them to remove the restrictions on its supply to other states.
A Union health ministry directive to this regard came on Friday in the wake of the Maharashtra government ordering restrictions on use of oxygen so that patients do not suffer. The Uddhav Thackeray government recently put a cap on use of oxygen for industrial purpose under the Epidemic Act. It directed all producing units in the state to supply 80% of their oxygen for medical use and remaining 20% for industrial use in Maharashtra only.
The state, where the coronavirus cases have crossed the 1 million mark, hit the panic mode after a few deaths were attributed to poor oxygen supply in hospitals, even though authorities refused to confirm the same. Private hospitals in Navi Mumbai, Nasik and Dhule have reportedly pressed the alarm button and reduced the flow of the oxygen to Covid-19 patients so that they do not run out of supply. Seven people died at a Jogeshari hospital and the families of the deceased alleged non-availability of oxygen.
In Maharashtra, 24 manufacturers produce a total of about 1,000 metric tonnes (MTs) of oxygen per day. With the pandemic raging on, the demand for health purposes alone has gone up to 900 MTs per day as against 400 MTs earlier. There are 66 oxygen refilling units in state.Arun Unhale, Commissioner, of Food and Drugs Administration, admitted that the demand for oxygen from hospitals had increased significantly, but added that “the patients are not suffering not because of a shortage of oxygen…We have sufficient stock...is no need to panic”.
The Maharashtra government’s decision restricting supply of oxygen to other states made Madhya Pradesh jitter, with CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan dialling his counterpart to reconsider the decision. MP, too, reported a few Covid-19 deaths, allegedly due to lack of oxygen, though the authorities denied the same. At least three patients were reported to have died at a private hospital in Dewas district on September 8. The district’s chief medical officer, however, said upon inspection, 400 oxygen cylinders were found to be available at the hospital, where 156 patients were admitted.
The Chouhan government, however, is not depending on Maharashtra and has taken steps to augment oxygen supply. The CM had said 120 tonnes of oxygen per day was available to the state and the supply would be increased to 150 tonnes by September 30.
States struggling to meet rising demand for oxygen
Mp is making arrangements for supply from Gujarat and UP. In Indore, the worst-hit district in MP, the administration on Friday directed all oxygen producing plants to operate on full capacity and supply the entire oxygen for medical use. A 200-tonne oxygen plant will be operational in six months in Hoshangabad district.In Punjab, per day demand for medical oxygen has gone up from 15-20 MTs before pandemic to 100 MTs now and is expected to increase to 165 MTs daily by September 30, with positive cases estimated to touch one lakh in a few days.
To meet the demand, the state’s Principal Secretary (Industries and Commerce), Alok Shekhar, has shot off letters to his counterparts in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, requesting them to direct the manufacturing plants in their respective states to increase the supply to Punjab. Manufacturers and re-filling units in the state, too, have been told to scale up production. The industries department has asked all 16 oxygen manufacturers and suppliers in Punjab, who were earlier supplying only 20 per cent of their oxygen for hospitals, to utilise the production capacity mainly for medical-grade oxygen.
Uttar Pradesh, a few districts like Agra and Jhansi have reported shortage. In Agra the shortage has been attributed to the high demand in Delhi as both the national capital and the city of Taj Mahal source their supply from NCR-based units. Similarly, Jhansi depends on neighbouring MP which itself is facing shortage.With inputs from our bureau in Mumbai, Bhopal, Chandigharh and Lucknow.