New Delhi: The pan-India medical oxygen shortage was under focus again on Friday with two states, West Bengal and Rajasthan, asking the Centre to increase their quotas, and the Supreme Court refusing to intervene in a Karnataka high court order increasing the allocation of the medical essential for the state. Tamil Nadu asked the Centre to restore its quota. On May 1 and May 2, in a meeting with Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, it was agreed that the state will be re-allotted 476 MT of oxygen as opposed to 220 MT but Centre hasn’t issued orders yet.
Some other states, however, said that supply improved over the past week due to higher allocations and improvements in the supply chain — issues that led to several high courts passing directives over the past fortnight as hospitals were struggling to treat patients for want of oxygen in the middle of a deadly second Covid-19 wave.
On Friday, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, her third letter in three days, requesting that 550 MT of medical oxygen be supplied to the state every day to manage the health care emergency. “Any allocation of medical oxygen less than the requested amount (550 MT) will not only adversely affect the supply of medical oxygen but may also result in loss of lives of the patients in the state,” she wrote.
On Friday, West Bengal reported 19, 216 new Covid-19 cases. The daily Covid death count in the state has shot up 20 times from six on February 26, when the assembly elections were announced, to 117 on May 6. On May 5, Banerjee wrote to Modi and said the demand of medical oxygen in the state had nearly doubled from 220 MT to 400 MT. On Friday, she said that the demand further shot up to 470 MT in the last 24 hours, and was expected to touch 550 MT in another week. “However instead of allocating the same as per the requirement of West Bengal, the Centre has increased allocation of medical oxygen to other states from the total production in West Bengal,” she wrote. Bengal’s allocation was fixed at 308 MT since May 4.
The Rajasthan government on Friday claimed that the oxygen supply to the state worsened since the Centre on May 4 decided to provide supply to the state from Jamnagar in Gujarat instead from Panipat in Haryana. “The oxygen supply from Jamnagar would take more time as compared to Panipat, which is comparatively closer to Jaipur. Apart from the factor of distance, the non-availability of tankers is another challenge to get oxygen from Jamnagar,” Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma said.
The Centre last Friday allotted an 100 MT oxygen to Rajasthan from Odisha and West Bengal, rasing its total allocation to 270 MT, but the state government said it could not get oxygen due to the lack of tankers. The state has 35 oxygen tankers, and will require 25 more tankers for smooth supply, a health official said. He added that the state has around 200,000 active cases, and daily demand of oxygen hit 550 MT. The state health department has said that the demand is set to increase to 705 MT by May 10 and 795 MT by May 15 based on current trends.
“Against the demand of 615MT of oxygen, the GoI is providing 270 MT, that too 100 MT from Bhiwadi; 70 MT from Jamnagar; 40 MT from Burnpur in West Bengal and 60MT from Kalinganagar in Orissa. Transporting oxygen from these places will take 10 days. Our officials are coordinating with railways and air force to speed up the process,” he said.
Till Thursday, Rajasthan reported 5,182 deaths and 702,568 coronavirus cases.
Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin on Friday wrote to Modi asking to restore oxygen diverted to other states as the state could face oxygen shortage from Saturday. Stalin said the current consumption was 440 MT which would increase to 840 MT in the next two weeks. Tamil Nadu on Friday reported 26,445 new cases, almost double the daily cases on May 1.
Other states such as Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh claimed that they were not facing any shortage of oxygen despite increase in cases as allocation has increased. Odisha’s director health services Bijay Mohapatra said no hospital in the state reported any shortage of oxygen even though daily Covid cases rose to 9,889 on Friday . Chhattisgarh health minister T S Singhdeo said that the state has ramped up oxygen supply from local industrial units and there was ample supply in hospitals and for patients in home isolation. “The demand for oxygen has also flattened in the state in the last three days and we have enough oxygen for time being,” he said. An official of the Andhra Pradesh health department said the state is not facing any oxygen shortage and was exporting oxygen to other states such as Maharashtra.
Hospitals in Patna continue to face a crisis, forcing some to reduce oxygen pressure to patients and refuse fresh patients. Ruban Hospital, accredited to the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH), had to curtail admission of new Covid-19 patients. “Our oxygen requirement is 600 cylinders (1 cylinder is 340 litres) per day, but we are able to get a maximum of 400-450 cylinders only in a day,” said a spokesperson of Ruban hospital. The Centre has allocated Bihar a daily quota of 214 MT, but the state was able to lift only 167 MT because of logistical issues.
Madhya Pradesh received 524 MT oxygen on Friday from different sources but the crisis persisted in private hospitals. “It is easy for big and renowned hospitals to get oxygen…but small hospitals have to struggle daily We queue up at refilling centres for 6-12 hours daily,” said a doctor of Bhopal based hospital, who didn’t wish to be named.
State minister Vishwas Sarang said, “We are putting our best efforts to fulfil the requirement…are setting up oxygen generation plant in every district.”
Indian Railways delivered 2,960 MT of liquid oxygen to states since April 19 in 185 tankers. Of this, 174 MT has been offloaded in Maharashtra, 729 MT in Uttar Pradesh, 249 MT in Madhya Pradesh, 305 MT in Haryana, 123 MT in Telangana, and 1,334 MT in Delhi, according to the Railways ministry.