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How Many More Need To Die For The Government To Act On The Alarming Oxygen Crisis?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

TW: mention of COVID deaths

“Air, air everywhere- not an ounce to breathe.”

As India’s COVID-19 death toll passes 200,000 and keeps rising with utmost vehemence, the mundane response of the government is something that needs a stare. Newspapers, social media, and television have abounded with stories related to the deaths of people who could have lived if they were provided with adequate supplies, be it oxygen or necessary drugs and medication. India is witnessing one of the most catastrophic times, yet we can hardly witness any serious efforts made on the ground.

India’s oxygen crisis is said to ease by mid-May, but this will remain one of the darkest periods of Indian history where people were helpless and the state was constantly playing a blame game. Hubris of the state over handling the pandemic dug a deeper hole for us in which the most downtrodden are supposed to fall.

Covid-19 Oxygen
A patient, wearing an oxygen mask, sits outside Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP), one of India’s largest facilities for COVID-19 patients only, in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. Image Credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

These people killed him. They didn’t give him oxygen. They didn’t tell us anything about an oxygen shortage,” says kin of a woman who died due to a dearth of oxygen in Jaipur Golden Hospital, New Delhi. The national capital has been affected the most by this acute deficiency of oxygen in the country. The premature celebration of supremacy over the virus is one of the primary reasons behind this existing crunch.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare had already warned the Central Government over the existing oxygen crisis in government; but as usual, it had hardly convinced the stakeholders to take any adequate steps. Where we stand today is a product of negligence that we all showed during the past few months.

What Is The Current Scenario?

Apart from Remdesivir, Fabiflu, and other drugs- which are also witnessing an acute shortage- medical oxygen remains on the top of the list. The Indian government’s data shows that the nation has a production capacity of 7,127 metric tonnes per day, but the supply chains are not being managed properly.

Oxygen plants are far from the states which need them the most. The facilities from where Delhi is now receiving oxygen are 1000 kilometres away. Oxygen, being of a hazardous nature, needs to be transported in specialized tankers, as a result, the shortage is due to intensified demand.

People are dying on the roads outside hospitals, gasping for air. We can witness a common scenario worldwide, which mainly includes people trying to procure cylinders or running to get them refilled. A common man with a nominal income that is affected by the current financial scenario cannot even afford medical treatment in these unprecedented times.

Most of the hospitals are not allowing new admissions as the whole system is collapsing day by day. India, on Thursday, witnessed a total of 3,498 deaths, and the numbers are rising every day. Manufacturing more cryogenic cylinders can take up to four months, but do we have time? Apparently not. Crematoriums are overloaded and there is a sense of fear among the citizens. The intentions of the government cannot be questioned because that might send you to jail.

Dreadful pictures are already being published everywhere showing the gravity of the cataclysm. States like Uttar Pradesh are claiming that they do not have any oxygen shortage and are arresting people for amplifying their needs on social media. This government cannot be claimed as a democracy anymore, it is nothing short of an “elected autocracy”.

India Faces Oxygen Crisis As Covid-19 Cases Mount
As COVID-19 cases continued to surge in India, people are struggling to get hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, injections, and medicines, with the health infrastructure in every state almost stretched to its limit. Representative Image. Image Credit: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Do We Have A Way Forward?

The government of India is taking a few steps that might lead to the betterment of the situation in the upcoming days.

As per a report dated back to September 2020, the centre drafted a 5-point plan to cure oxygen shortage which mainly included ‘a 24×7 green corridor for movement of liquid medical oxygen tankers within and outside a state, scrapping time restrictions for trucks carrying oxygen cylinders to enter city limits, creation of an inter-ministerial control group to monitor oxygen supply and demand in real-time, creation of a micro-level management system to monitor the upkeep of oxygen pipelines, cryogenic tanks, etc., and stricter checks in states on hoarding and black marketing of oxygen.’

However, we can hardly witness any implementation on the ground level. The states are procuring supplies from the international market. The same is being done by the state governments at a national level. Mobile oxygen generation plants are being airlifted from U.S.A., Germany, and France. Though every state is unequivocal about their steps, we can still wish that all these steps are being implemented on the ground the same way as they appear on the papers.

The situation is harrowing but there remains hope amid despair. Many social organizations are working to ameliorate the situation and are constantly helping the needy.

The armed forces are also playing a significant role by airlifting stocks that are being provided by the international community. Modified lockdowns are being announced by different states that may help in containing the virus to some extent. While the Supreme Court has already addressed the situation as a ‘national health emergency’ and asked the central government to prepare a national plan, people are still waiting to hear something meaningful from the Prime Minister’s podium.

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