Covid Crisis: 7 steps India took to ramp up oxygen supply amid shortage

By | Edited by Avik Roy, New Delhi
Apr 26, 2021 02:52 PM IST

Till about a month ago, India had thought that she had won the war against coronavirus disease. And then the second Covid-19 wave hit.

After the first wave last year, it appeared as though India’s response against coronavirus pandemic – barring a few hiccups like the migrant crisis - had largely worked. The Centre imposed a 68-day lockdown, the citizens abided – and the Centre and state governments used that time to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure, stocked up on ventilators, PPE kits, planned and initiated the vaccine drive. By mid February, it seemed that India had weathered the Covid-19 storm with its vaccine program well underway.

A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease waits to get admitted outside the casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital amid the spread of the disease in New Delhi.(Reuters)
A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease waits to get admitted outside the casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital amid the spread of the disease in New Delhi.(Reuters)

And then the second Covid-19 wave hit. To say that we as a nation were caught unawares about this second 'Covid Tsunami' will be an understatement. At the government level – both Centre and state - we had dropped the guard. Politicians held mega election rallies, states delayed putting in place curbs that would have prevented spikes in infections, and people like you and me had started partying and vacationing thinking the worst was behind us.

The wakeup call came only when the Covid-19 caseload spiked to a worrying high; overcrowded hospitals started raising oxygen SOSes, even turning patients away for lack of oxygen and beds. The tragic death of at least 20 Covid-19 patients of Jaipur Golden Hospital in northwest Delhi following a dip in oxygen pressure at the facility highlighted the scarcity. Heartbreaking visuals of mass cremations in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat exacerbated the ugly face of the ongoing pandemic.

Over the last several days, there has been anger and demands that the Centre ensure adequate oxygen supply. The Centre has since swung into action.

Here’s a look at the urgent steps initiated to address the shortage so that at least India does not lose more lives for lack of access to treatment than the virus itself.

STEP 1: BANNING NON-MEDICAL USE OF LIQUID OXYGEN

In order to ease the oxygen supply situation at hospitals treating Covid patients, the government on Sunday restricted the use of liquid oxygen to only medical use. The order also applies to the existing stock of liquid oxygen with manufacturing units. The government in its order has clarified that ‘No industry will be exempt from this order’.

STEP 2: 551 PSA MEDICAL OXYGEN GENERATION PLANTS OKAYED

Again on Sunday, the Centre approved allocation of funds for installation of 551 dedicated Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSO) Medical Oxygen Generation Plants inside public health facilities in the country. These plants will be established in identified Government hospitals in district headquarters.

STEP 3: STATES ADVISED ON LOCAL CONTAINMENT ZONES

The Union health ministry on Sunday also issued local containment guidelines for districts that have reported a test positivity of 10% or more in the last one week, or have more than 60% occupancy of oxygen-supported or ICU beds. The Ministry stressed on local containment zones for 14 days with clear boundaries and stringent controls to stop the spread of the virus.

STEP 4: RAILWAYS GEARS UP WITH OXYGEN EXPRESS

Meanwhile, Indian Railways has stepped up operations of the Oxygen Express trains to transport liquid medical oxygen to various states across the country. An ‘oxygen express’ train carrying about 70 tonnes of medical oxygen from the Jindal Steel Works plant in Raigarh is expected to reach oxygen starved Delhi by tonight. More such plans are being chalked out to ferry oxygen to the capital.

STEP 5: NAVY, IAF HELP TACKLE OXYGEN SHORTAGE

The Navy has also kicked off oxygen express ferries to island territories. On Sunday, INS Sharda transferred essential medical supplies to the Lakshadweep administration including 35 Oxygen cylinders, Rapid Antigen Detection Test kits, PPE gear and other items. The IAF has also been airlifting oxygen containers to filling stations to tackle oxygen shortage.

STEP 6: ITBP RE-OPENS COVID CARE FACILITY IN DELHI

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) today reopened its Covid care centre in south Delhi with 500 oxygenated beds. This was the world's largest centre and was closed down in February this year. The facility has now been re-opened on the request of Delhi government to the Home Ministry.

STEP 7: GLOBAL SUPPORT POURS IN

And finally, international support. Over the last 24 hours, the United States, Germany, UK and the European Union have shared their respective plans to provide assistance to India battling this severe pandemic. While the US has agreed to send raw materials needed for vaccine production in India, the UK has also announced sending life-saving medical equipment including ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said that her government is "urgently" preparing a "mission of support" for India.

Some experts are of the view that these urgent measures are coming a little late in the day and we should have been better prepared for the second wave. But we will have time for recriminations and blame games later. Right now the need of the hour is to step up as a collective to battle this massive spike in cases and save as many lives as possible.

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