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Will India Have Enough Oxygen for COVID Patients?: Data & Measures

Eshwar Ranjana
·4 min read

As India grapples with a ferocious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a major challenge that has emerged before the nation is the need for oxygen supply for both COVID-19 patients and others.

Several states, including Maharashtra that have reported the highest number of cases with each passing day, have reached the maximum consumption and production limit of oxygen.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, 16 April, took stock of the availability of oxygen supply in the country and called for free movement and increased production of oxygen with several key decisions being taken to ramp up production and supply.

However, what is the oxygen-production capacity of India? What is the current oxygen demand in the country, and is India equipped enough to meet this demand?

Let’s look at some data.

How Much Oxygen Does India Produce Daily and How Much Do We Need?

India has the capacity to produce 7,127 metric tonnes of oxygen on a daily basis. According to the Union Health Ministry, on 12 April, India’s medical oxygen consumption was 3,842 metric tonnes, which is 54 percent of the daily production capacity.

Speaking of the first wave, several studies and reports suggested that of the total number of people infected by the virus, approximately 6 percent needed oxygen support.

On 1 April, India had approximately 1 lakh active cases of COVID-19, a figure that rose to 17 lakh on 16 April.

Going by 6 percent of the total requirement, over 1 lakh people infected with the virus might currently need oxygen support – a figure that does not include people suffering from other ailments and other medical requirements of oxygen.

Moreover, the steel plants across India are reported to have approximately 14,000 metric tonnes of oxygen, which the Centre has been suggested to bank upon by experts in the meeting with the Prime Minister.

What Measures Is the Centre Taking?

  • India will import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen to reduce the shortage of supplies

  • 100 new hospitals will have their own oxygen plant under the PM-CARES Fund

  • 4,880 metric tonnes, 5,619 metric tonnes and 6,593 metric tonnes of oxygen have been allocated to 12 states for meeting their projected demand as on 20 April, 25 April and 30 April, respectively. These 12 states are the high-burden states – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

  • Tankers to move around the clock, with drivers working in shifts to ensure a faster turnaround, and adequate capacity to meet the surge in demand

  • Cylinder filling plants permitted to operate for 24 hours

  • Industrial cylinders to be allowed to be used for medical oxygen after due purging. Similarly, nitrogen and argon tankers will be allowed to be converted to oxygen tankers

  • The meeting also discussed offering surplus oxygen from steel plants for medical use, a government statement said

  • All inter-state movement of oxygen tankers exempted from registration of permits to enable easier movement

Are These Measures Enough? What Are the Challenges

The biggest challenge that the governments are currently facing is the reduction in the time taken for the oxygen to travel from the manufacturing units or plants to the hospital beds. With scores of hospitals across the country already facing a shortage, several states are banking upon either the Centre’s help or the neighbouring states for oxygen supply.

According to data, the country has approximately 1,200-1,500 tankers that supply oxygen to hospitals, whose movement is expected to ease with the new relaxations in intra and interstate permits.

The order for 100 hospitals to set up their own oxygen plants via the PM-CARES fund and the import of 50,000 metric tonnes of oxygen are the processes that are expected to take a few weeks. So, fulfilling the immediate requirement of oxygen throughout the country still remains a challenge.

(With inputs from Prem Kumar for Quint Hindi.)

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