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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Demand up by 60 MT in 8 days: Punjab gasps for oxygen as cases spiral

Another government official pointed out that total allocation to the state was 227 MT, including 195 MT allocated from other states which Punjab has been unsuccessful in availing to full capacity due to logistical constraints.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh |
May 9, 2021 4:19:16 am
Empty oxygen cylinders being loaded into a truck in Patiala, Saturday. (Express Photo by Harmeet Sodhi)

The oxygen emergency in Punjab is witnessing a fast escalation. To add to the rising caseload that has pushed demand for oxygen up by almost 60 metric tonnes in the first 8 days of this month, the IAF has indicated that transport of oxygen tankers by air might take a hit on May 11, 12 due to adverse weather conditions. Punjab has been consistently struggling to lift its entire quota of oxygen allocated by the Centre due to logistical constraints.

“Covid patient load in the state has gone up by almost 3 times from April 21 to May 7,” said a government functionary, adding: “Oxygen consumption in state has also enhanced manifolds during this time. On April 30, Covid oxygen consumption was 203.8 MT, whereas on May 7 it reached 250.6 MT, registering an increase of almost 50 MT in a week. On Saturday, the demand for oxygen registered further increase to 262 MT.”

Another government official pointed out that total allocation to the state was 227 MT, including 195 MT allocated from other states which Punjab has been unsuccessful in availing to full capacity due to logistical constraints. Apart from that, 32 MT is being arranged internally.

Punjab Covid Control Room in-charge, IAS officer Ajoy Sharma, said that Punjab’s struggle to get oxygen was only getting tougher. The Indian Air Force, Sharma said, has cited western disturbances to warn that airlifting of the oxygen tankers from the state to Bokaro may take a hit on May 11 and 12 due to bad weather conditions.

“If this happens, Punjab would be further pushed into a corner. Out of 195 metric tonnes from other states, maximum quota of 90 MT liquid medical oxygen has been allocated to Punjab from Bokaro,” Sharma said while describing the current availability of oxygen supplies in the state as “hand to mouth”.

He added that even if caseload plateaued today, the earlier load of cases would mean that the state would require oxygen supplies for the previous cases for at least a week.

Punjab was able to send two tankers to Bokaro daily from April 27 till May 2, but on May 3, only one tanker could be airlifted due to technical reasons. The state has been demanding that IAF be directed to arrange at least three sorties on a daily basis (subject to supply of tankers by Centre), but in any case at least two sorties daily.

“In case of cancellation of sortie on a day, an additional sortie must be arranged on the next day. Punjab has not been able to lift its full quota as unavailability of the tankers for sending to Bokaro has created a challenge for the state,” said a government functionary.

“On account of weather and other factors leading to non-availability of IAF sorties, only two tankers could be air lifted on May 6 and 7, although four tankers were made available to Air Force. The state is able to lift only about 30 to 35 MT of the allocated quota on days when only one sortie takes off and at maximum 60-70 MT in case Air Force is able to stick to its schedule of two sorties. All these factors combined are creating a situation where these disruptions in oxygen lifting may lead to a situation that Punjab may face problem in lifting as much oxygen as is needed due to increasing patient load and that may be fatal for the patients,” said the functionary.

Punjab government had on its own arranged 21 tankers for lifting and distribution of this oxygen (excluding few tankers bound by contractual obligations of the plants from adjacent states that make direct supply to some hospitals of Punjab). Five out of these 21 tankers are only capable of being used for local supply to cater to SOS calls as they are of small capacity. Punjab government has requested Centre to supply at least 20 tankers, out of which only two have been supplied through Indian Oil Corporation till now and even they did not work for four days due to technical issues, said the government source, adding that the total requirement of tankers for Punjab was at least 36, while actually availability of tankers was only 20, resulting in a shortfall of 16 tankers.

Since Friday, Punjab government has been demanding that Centre provide allocation of 50 MT of LMO from nearby states and not from far off places like Bokaro to cater to the increasing demand.

The logistical issues faced by Punjab in lifting its oxygen quota from Bokaro include the Railways not allowing the tankers airlifted from Punjab on ‘Oxygen Express’ as majority of those exceeded 3.5 metre height criteria.

Ajoy Sharma said the state government had found a way out to get the cryogenic tankers on ‘Oxygen Express’ by only getting the tanker airlifted to Ranchi “without the truck carrier platform”, which would enable those tankers to be transported through ‘Oxygen Express’. He said that the tankers would reach Bokaro from Ranchi through road route in local transportation arrangements and would be transported through ‘Oxygen Express’ after refilling without the truck carrier, circumventing the height requirement of the railways.

Asked if the airlifted tankers could be brought back by the Air Force after re-filling, Sharma said the Air Force had expressed its inability to do so, citing risks.

As the state grapples with limited supply of oxygen, in Patiala, Deputy Medical Superintendent of Amar Hospital Dr J S Sra said, “Everyday, for oxygen supply, we have to find some connection or seek help from some hospital to ensure availability of the oxygen.” Dr Sra said that currently there was a requirement of 230 cylinders of oxygen daily in the hospital. He added that the one of the way to get out of the crisis was to have at least two big oxygen plants, catering to clusters of districts.

Dr Sambhav Jain of Vardhman Mahaveer Health Care Hospital in Patiala said, “We are getting supplies from an oxygen plant in Rajpura. In case, we encounter any supply issues, the district administration helps us in overcoming that.”

Meanwhile, as per official media bulletin issued by the state government on Saturday, there were 71,948 active cases in the state, 9,086 of them on oxygen support and 288 on ventilator support. A total of 4.33 lakh persons have tested positive for the contagion since the outbreak and 10315 died.

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