The Union Health Ministry has initiated the process of importing liquid oxygen as part of its preparedness to meet any unforeseen shortage during the winters when the country may witness an increase in COVID-19 cases leading to a rise in demand for oxygen.
HLL Lifecare Limited, a public sector undertaking, has floated a global tender on Wednesday on behalf of the Health Ministry for procuring one lakh metric tonne of liquid oxygen.
The oxygen is being procured for various central and state government hospitals.
The entire exercise of importing and then distributing the medical oxygen is estimated to cost Rs 600-700 crore, official sources said.
As on Tuesday, around 3.97 percent of the COVID-19 patients were on oxygen support, 2.46 percent were in ICU beds which are again with oxygen support and 0.40 percent on ventilator support.
In March, before the country went into a lockdown, the country had a manufacturing capacity of around 6,400 metric tonne of oxygen per day, of which around 1,000 metric tonne was being used for medical purposes daily while the rest was utilised by industries, sources said.
"Industries have opened up following unlock procedures and as on September 30, the country’s daily capacity of oxygen production is around 7,000 metric tonne, of which around 3,094 metric tonne is being used for both COVID and non-COVID patients and is just enough to meet the demands,” a source said.
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"So this one lakh metric tonne of liquid oxygen which is being planned to be procured from foreign countries would create a one month buffer in case demand rises further during the winter season,” the source explained.
The issue was discussed at a meeting held by the Cabinet Secretary on October 10, following which it was decided to import liquid oxygen.
Even though India is witnessing a declining trend in daily new COVID-19 cases, experts fear that the upcoming festive season and following winter months may see a spike in coronavirus infections.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has urged people to observe COVID-19-appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, maintaining respiratory etiquette and staying away from congregations, citing the possibility of increased novel coronavirus transmission during winters.
"These viruses are known to thrive better in the cold weather and low humidity conditions. In view of these, it would not be wrong to assume that the winter season may see increased rates of transmission of the novel coronavirus in the Indian context too," he said.
In September, when cases were increasing, the Health Ministry had repeatedly advised states to ensure adequate oxygen availability in all healthcare facilities and unrestricted intra as well as inter-state movement of oxygen.
States were also asked to ensure facility wise/hospital wise oxygen inventory management and advance planning for timely replenishment so that there are no stockouts.
India’s COVID-19 caseload rose to 72,39,389 on Wednesday, while the death toll due to the disease was 1,10,586.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.