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Maharashtra crosses one million Covid cases, shortage of oxygen hits hospitals

With Maharashtra requiring 1,200 metric tonne of medical oxygen daily, the government has instructed suppliers to first prioritise government hospitals, then private Covid hospitals and then non-Covid hospitals.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Osmanabad, Satara |
Updated: September 12, 2020 9:03:34 am
maharashtra coronavirus latest updates, maharashtra covid cases, maharashtra covid hospitals, maharashtra covid oxygen supply, maharashtra newsA worker loads oxygen cylinders for a hospital at Goraj Gases plant near Solapur. (Express photo)

As Maharashtra became the first state to cross a million Covid-19 cases on Friday, north Maharashtra and Marathwada regions are facing shortage of medical oxygen supply.

On Friday afternoon, as a man on ventilator battled for life at Sparsh hospital in Osmanabad, the staff made frantic calls to dealers for oxygen. Their sole cylinder would last the patient just three hours.

“I receive such calls every few hours. The situation is really bad. The demand for oxygen has suddenly surged since a week, and there isn’t enough supply,” said Mohit Patil, a oxygen cylinder dealer, who finally managed to procure cylinders by night for the hospital and saved the patient.

The state on Thursday recorded 393 more deaths due to Covid-19, taking its toll to 28,724. With 24,886 new cases were recorded on Friday alone, Maharashtra has reported 10,15,681 cases so far.

Covid-19 numbers in Maharashtra have risen from 1.8 lakh active cases to 2.61 lakh in just a fortnight. One lakh fresh cases has been added in just six days.

Every day, around 2,000 to 3,000 new patients require oxygen support across the state, with critical ones requiring 40 to 60 litre a minute. Major oxygen generation or oxygen conversion plants are located in Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur and Nagpur belt, leaving remaining districts to struggle with lack of supply.

“A geographical mismatch has led to issues in some parts of the state, but we are taking steps to resolve this,” said Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas.

On September 9, the Maharashtra government had issued a notification to oxygen suppliers to sell not more than 20 per cent of their cylinders outside the state. The move, aimed at stabilising the state’s own oxygen requirement, affected Madhya Pradesh that largely depends on Maharashtra and Gujarat for oxygen supply.

MP Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan reached out to his Maharashtra counterpart, Uddhav Thackeray, for a resumption of supplies.

On Friday, the Union Health Ministry issued directives to all states and Union territories “to ensure no restriction is imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between them”. “It is every state’s responsibility to ensure that every hospitalised Covid patient receives oxygen,” the directive stated.

With Maharashtra requiring 1,200 metric tonne of medical oxygen daily, the government has instructed suppliers to first prioritise government hospitals, then private Covid hospitals and then non-Covid hospitals. Supply to industrial units is to be penalised with fines up to Rs 30,000.

In Osmanabad, private hospitals first inquire with suppliers before admitting a patient in need of oxygen. “We have been forced to do this, because if we admit and run out of oxygen, we can lose the patient,” said intensivist Dr Sushrut Dambal from Niramay Hospital.

A fortnight ago, he had to shift two critical patients to Solapur, 66 km away, after oxygen supply ran out and no hospital in town had spare cylinders.

Goraj Gases, an oxygen conversion plant in Tamalwadi near Solapur, receives 150 calls a day from desperate hospitals in Solapur and Osmanabad. They convert liquid oxygen and supply 450 cylinders a day to three government hospitals. Since a month, they have increased their capacity from two to 10 tonne. “Our dealer Inox in Pune is getting huge demand. Their supply to us has been affected,” said lab chemist Hasan Pathan.

Escalation in demand has also shot up prices. “Earlier, refill of cylinder cost Rs 350, now it costs Rs 700,” said Pramod Patil, who helps fix oxygen supply at home for Covid-19 patients in Satara. Irfan Sayyed, who is setting up a Covid centre through crowd funding in Satara, said even installation cost of oxygen cylinders has increased.

A similar shortage exists in Latur, Solapur and Beed. In Beed district hospital, the oxygen tank is too small and a larger one is being planned. In Nandurbar, officials are setting up a new oxygen plant to stop dependence on Dhule for oxygen. In Pimpri Chinchwad, a 150 metric tonne plant is being planned.

In the entire country, while there are only 1,040 tankers to supply liquid oxygen, most are in Maharashtra. A state official said they have requested the Union government to release nitrogen tankers so that more tankers can be roped in to transport liquid oxygen.

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