Hospitals around the world are reporting shortages of oxygen cylinder as they confront the spread of coronavirus pandemic which is soaring demand for oxygen. In many parts of the world, oxygen is expensive and hard to get. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
With hospitals across the country falling short of medical oxygen and hundreds of Covid-19 patients gasping for breath, the central government on March 15 formulated multiple plans to ensure the supply of oxygen to all states, particularly those who need it the most.
On March 16, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi took a comprehensive review to ensure adequate medical-grade oxygen supply in the country.
The PM was briefed about production capacity in the country to meet the rising demand. He suggested increasing oxygen production as per the capacity of each plant and proposed that surplus stocks of oxygen supply in steel plants be offered for medical use.
As part of its plans, the government has asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to finalise a tender and study the possibilities of importing 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to cater to skyrocketing demand.
The government has also decided to ramp up the production of medical oxygen, reaching out to private companies to produce it in this period of crisis.
The Health Ministry has identified 100 hospitals for Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants, which manufacture oxygen and help hospitals become self-sufficient in their requirement of this crucial nutrient.
Around 162 Pressure Swing Adsorption plants sanctioned under PM-Cares, are being closely reviewed for early completion to enhance self-generation of oxygen in hospitals, especially in remote areas.
The government has also asked the Health Ministry to identify another 100 hospitals in far-flung areas for installation of PSA plants.
The central government said that it had been assured 4,880 metric tonne, 5,619 metric tonne and 6,593 metric tonnes of medical oxygen by manufacturers for 12 high-burden states to meet their projected demand as on April 20, 25 and 30, respectively.
The government has started mapping oxygen sources for the 12 high-burden states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
The government has also exempted all interstate movement of oxygen tankers from registration of permits to enable easier movement. Cylinder filling plants will also be permitted 24 hours, working with necessary safeguards.
It is also allowing industrial cylinders to be used for medical oxygen after due purging. Similarly, nitrogen and argon tankers will be automatically allowed to be converted to oxygen tankers to overcome the potential shortage of tankers.
Reliance Industries Ltd is also planning to divert oxygen produced at its refineries to help battle the outbreak.
RIL had last year started supplying oxygen from Jamnagar in Gujarat to Maharashtra at no cost and will now provide 100 tonnes of the gas to the state.
Apart from RIL, India’s top steel producers are also planning to divert industrial oxygen supplies to government hospitals in Maharashtra, Odisha, Delhi, and Gujarat.
In recent weeks, several hospitals across the country have reported that they were struggling to facilitate treatment of COVID-19 infected patients due to shortage of medical oxygen.
Reasons for Shortage of Oxygen
While it currently takes three-five days for oxygen to reach a patient from a manufacturer, delay in transportation to dealers, conversion into cylinders and supply to hospitals can take longer if even a tiny link in the supply chain falters.
Ominously, as demand surges, logistics are falling short. India has roughly 1,200-1,500 tankers for transport, which before the pandemic were adequate, but are now difficult to hire and more expensive. Hence, the travel time for oxygen to reach a patient from a manufacturing unit, can now take five-six days.
The Union health ministry said in a statement on March 16: "While the demand in Maharashtra is expected to be beyond available production capacity of the state, states like Madhya Pradesh do not have any production capacity to meet their demand for medical oxygen. Besides, there is a trend of increasing demand in other oxygen producing states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, etc."
Such demand-supply imbalance has hit medical infrastructure and worsened the Covid-19 situation.
India has the capacity to produce 6,900 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen daily and according to the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers’ Association, over 2,500 tonne is being directed towards hospitals, most consumed by coronavirus patients. The rest, another 2,000-2,300 tonnes, is the industrial requirement each day.
Disclaimer: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd which publishes Moneycontrol.