West Bengal, April 23 (ANI): A COVID-19 patient breathes with the support of an oxygen cylinder as he arrives at a government hospital amid the surge in Coronavirus cases, in Kolkata on Friday. (ANI Photo)

Families run around to procure the precious gas. The government steps in but it is too little and too late. A look at India’s oxygen crisis and an impending disaster

Our Bureau  
New Delhi

India is gasping for air and there is not enough oxygen. Reports of distress are coming from all across the country.

In New Delhi, a possible crisis was averted at Holy Family Hospital in the national capital on Friday when an emergency supply of liquid oxygen, arranged by the Delhi government reached the hospital, with only half an hour of reserve remaining.

Thanking the media and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal-led government, Dr Sumit Ray, medical superintendent of Holy Family Hospital said the healthcare system needs an improvement as logistics cannot be organised by individual hospital, and they have to be arranged by state and central forces combined.

In the financial capital Mumbai, the Bombay High Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the Nashik Oxygen leak incident in which 24 people lost their lives. The court has asked the state government to file a reply on it. As many as 24 people died in the oxygen tanker leakage incident at Dr Zakir Hussain Hospital in Maharashtra’s Nashik district on Wednesday.

“Death toll rises to 24. There was no negligence by the Corporation. A high-level committee has been set up to probe the incident,” said Nashik Mayor Satish Kulkarni.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that the situation is under control now.

Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Minister Rajendra Shingane said, “It is an unfortunate incident. We are trying to get a detailed report. We have ordered an enquiry as well. Anyone found responsible will not be spared.”

Meanwhile, the country’s first Roll On Roll Off (RORO) Oxygen Express, which departed from Visakhapatnam yesterday, reached Nagpur Junction railway station with seven oxygen tankers on Friday. The Railways said in a release that the Oxygen Express reached Nagpur at 8.10 pm today. “Three tankers will be unloaded at Nagpur station and the remaining will be unloaded at Nasik Road station in Maharashtra. Oxygen Express is expected to reach Nasik Road station in the morning tomorrow,” it said.

The Railways said it transported essential commodities and kept the supply chain intact even during the lockdown last year and continued to serve the nation in times of emergencies. The green corridors are helping in fast movement of Oxygen Express.

The story of despair is the same in other states. In view of the increasing demand for medical oxygen amid rising COVID-19 cases, the Oxygen Management Group appointed by the Rajasthan government added 17 more tankers and 32,000 cylinders to bridge the gap.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has also been directly monitoring the oxygen supply scenario along with the management of the COVID-19 situation. “The government has also established 24 hours control rooms at State level as well as district levels to ensure efficient management of oxygen. Rajasthan has been able to avoid scarcity of oxygen to healthcare services helping them to effectively control the mortality rate and recovery period,” the release said.

The situation has become so drastic that Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has written to all states and UTs to provide adequate security to vehicles transporting Oxygen and also provide corridors for quick transportation of Oxygen to hospitals.

“I would urge you to issue suitable directions, to concerned authorities in your State/ UT, to ensure compliance with the MHA order dated 22.04.2021, of the directions given by the Hon’ble High Court, and to provide adequate security to oxygen-transporting vehicles and to make provisions for exclusive corridors for such transportation, treating these vehicles like ambulances,” Bhalla said while giving details about supplies of oxygen and court directions.

“There shall be free movement of oxygen-carrying vehicles into the cities, without any restriction of timings; supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, except those exempted by the Government, is prohibited with effect from 22.04.2021 till further orders; States/ UTs shall strictly abide by the oxygen allocation order dated 21.04.2021; and district authorities will be personally liable for implementation of these directions,” Bhalla said.

In the middle of the crisis, the state of Odisha is lending a helping hand to other states. As many as 15 tankers containing more than 250 tonnes of Medical Oxygen from Rourkela, Jajpur, and Angul district in Odisha have been despatched to the various parts of the country in the last 24 hours.

According to the Odisha Police, the containers have been sent to Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), Hyderabad (Telangana), Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Pune, Mumbai and Nagpur (Maharashtra). This comes at a time when India is witnessing a shortage in the supply of medical oxygen due to a record rise in COVID-19 cases.

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