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How wheels moved overnight from Odisha to Andhra Pradesh to trace oxygen tanker

The medical oxygen tanker finally made it in time to the hospital with 400 Covid-19 patients, as the tired driver was traced parked next to a dhaba, sleeping.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Hyderabad |
Updated: May 8, 2021 7:48:14 am
The driver, Vidya Singh, and his tanker on Friday. (Express Photo)

Amidst the precarious oxygen supply situation, a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh spent a sleepless night on Thursday trying to trace a tanker that went “missing”, with officials working the phones up and down the route the driver was to take from Odisha to Vijayawada. The medical oxygen tanker finally made it in time to the hospital with 400 Covid-19 patients, as the tired driver was traced parked next to a dhaba, sleeping.

Government General Hospital at Vijayawada was counting on the 18-tonne oxygen tanker to land from Angul in Odisha after refill by Friday morning. The hospital which has 600-plus Covid beds receives severe cases from nearby areas and all its 400 patients are currently on oxygen support. It gets oxygen supplies from Odisha and the Vizag Steel Plant. Thursday night, as it tried finding the tanker to ensure that all was well, the hospital discovered that its on-board tracking system was off. It next called the mobile phone of the driver, Vidya Singh, but that too was switched off.

The hospital rang the alarm bells, with Medical Superintendent Dr Siva Shankar Rao and Joint Collector L Siva Shankar contacting Vijayawada Police Commissioner B Srinivasulu. The latter took quick action, alerting all the senior police officers, including District Superintendents of Police, of areas falling on the 800-km route from Angul to Vijayawada.

When it was determined that Singh had crossed Visakhapatnam, on the basis of his mobile phone tracking, the search was narrowed down.

Around 2 am, the Circle Inspector of Prathipadu in East Godavari, Y Rambabu, got a call from SP Adnan Nayeem Asmi. “He said an oxygen tanker was missing and it could be in our area.”

Rambadu says the officer pressed the urgency of the situation. “He said it was important that the tanker reach Vijayawada hospital by 6 am, or the lives of patients could be in danger.”

A frantic search later, Rambadu and his team finally found the tanker around 2.30 am, parked outside a dhaba at Dharmavaram, along with several other trucks. “Vidya Singh said he had gone off to sleep because he was extremely tired. He told us he had been driving long hours since several days to deliver oxygen, and he was fatigued and felt drowsy. So he stopped the tanker and slept.”

Singh, 40, is employed with S S Movers and Logistics. Due to the growing demand for oxygen, shortage of drivers, as well as Covid-19 protocols, the tanker did not have an additional driver or attendant.

Rambadu said Singh told them he was well rested and could drive on. But the Circle Officer decided not to take the risk. “We sent an experienced police driver along with him, and police in all jurisdictions created a green channel till Government General Hospital, Vijayawada,” Rambabu said.

The 250-km journey went off without a hitch, and the tanker reached the hospital at 7 am, with barely enough oxygen in the hospital’s tankers to spare. Since the panic happened in the night, the patients and their relatives remained unaware.

Andhra Pradesh, that is among the states witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases, requires about 500 metric tonnes of oxygen daily, with over 20,000 patients on oxygen support at various government and private hospitals.

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