On April 21, as India reported the largest single-day spike of nearly 316, 000 Covid-19 cases, several hospitals across the country expressed their inability to treat patients in the wake of acute oxygen shortage.
Beg, borrow, or steal oxygen
In the national capital, the crisis became so dire that a hospital chain was forced to go to court to get more oxygen supply.
On April 21, Max Healthcare, which runs 14 hospitals across the national capital region, filed an urgent plea with the Delhi high court citing an acute shortage of oxygen. Max had informed the court that it was left with only three hours of oxygen. It said if that ran out, the lives of 400 patients—of which 262 are suffering from Covid-19—would be under threat.
The Delhi high court held an urgent hearing in the case yesterday and directed the Narendra Modi government to ensure the supply of medical oxygen to hospitals in Delhi by “whatever means required.”
The Delhi high court told the centre that it isn’t using all of its resources to deal with the crisis. “You are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow, or steal,” the court said.
It also directed the centre to divert the entire supply of oxygen from industries such as steel and petroleum to hospitals, if necessary. “How is the government so oblivious of the ground reality? We can’t let people die,” the Delhi high court said. “Why is it not dawning upon your officers that the supply of oxygen to steel and petroleum industries need to be minimised. Why are you showing hesitancy? Is running a steel plant so important? Ask Mr Tata. He’ll be willing to help,” the court said.
On April 20, the steel-to-salt conglomerate Tata Group had announced its decision to import 24 cylinders of liquid oxygen to aid the government in combating the oxygen crisis.
Nashik oxygen leak
Meanwhile, in the western state of Maharashtra, at least 24 deaths were reported due to leakage from an oxygen cylinder at a hospital in Nashik.
“It was chaos as doctors and nurses tried to revive patients. Relatives rushed into the ward after hearing something had gone wrong…When we realised that the oxygen had run out, relatives including me clamoured to get these cylinders from the bedsides of patients who were being given oxygen and had died,” a 23-year-old Vicky Jadhav, whose grandmother was among the dead 24 patients told the Indian Express.
The politics over oxygen
Meanwhile, states are fighting among themselves over oxygen supply.
Yesterday, the Haryana government accused Delhi of stealing its share of oxygen supplies. The state’s health minister alleged that an oxygen tanker that was on its way into the state via the national capital on April 20 was “looted” by the Delhi government. “We are being forced to give our oxygen to Delhi,” he said.
Earlier officials from the state of Uttar Pradesh accused Delhi of “stealing” oxygen, saying that the state’s hospitals are suffering as Delhi took more than its share of oxygen on April 20 from key supplier INOX. “INOX is supplying oxygen to maximum hospitals of Uttar Pradesh… extra supply of oxygen to Delhi will create problem in Uttar Pradesh,” the official told the media.
On April 20, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had appealed to the Modi government to increase the oxygen quota for the national capital. The oxygen quota for Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh has also been increased.