India faces oxygen scarcity as Covid-19 cases surge

India faces oxygen scarcity as Covid-19 cases surge
India has the second highest Covid-19 caseload in the world. Source: AFP
3 Min Read

Daily US Times: As coronavirus cases surge in India, the country’s problem of enough oxygen availability becomes more intense. Both patients and relatives are desperately trying to find enough oxygen supply.

Ankit Sethia spent a sleepless Friday night trying to procure oxygen for his 50-bed hospital on the outskirts of India’s commercial capital, Mumbai. After all-night of trying, he did not manage to get enough supply for his hospital.

On Sunday evening, Mr Sethia said: “Now I have enough oxygen for the next 12 hours. We are firefighting every day. The battle is to get some oxygen anyhow.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Some 15% of Covid-19 patients require help with breathing. Some people appear in no evident respiratory distress, but are found to have dangerously low oxygen levels – a condition called silent hypoxia.

Around 500 factories spread around India extract and purify oxygen from the air. Oxygen for medical use typically accounts for 15% of overall supplies in the country. The rest is industrial oxygen and is is mainly supplied to steel and automobile industries for running blast furnaces.

The factories ship oxygen in liquid form to hospitals in tankers. It is then converted into gas and piped directly to beds. Some hospitals also use aluminium and steel cylinders which store oxygen in gas form – but this requires frequent change of cylinders for each bed.

As India opens up its economy and people return to work, coronavirus cases have been surging through small cities and towns. India has reported more than 4.8 million cases and the country’s caseload is the second highest in the world, after the US. Some 600,000 cases were added just last week, and more than 90,000 cases were reported just on Saturday. One newspaper calls it a “scary, runaway phase” of infections.

Demand for oxygen has risen exponentially. According to data obtained from All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, care centres and hospitals are consuming up to around 2,700 tonnes of oxygen every day this month, compared to 750 tonnes in April.

The demand for industrial oxygen has also shot up because more factories are now reopening, oxygen manufacturers say. The states seeing a worrying uptick in infections – Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat- are suffering the most. It’s a lives-versus-livelihoods question that India is grappling with now.

Saket Tikku, the president of the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturers Association, said: ”Now 45% of the oxygen we are producing is going to industries, while 55% is going to hospitals and nursing homes.”

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