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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Covid second wave: On the ground, oxygen SOS but on the record, zero deaths

No deaths due to lack of oxygen specifically reported by states/UTs, says MoS; Cong to move privilege motion

Written by Harikishan Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: July 21, 2021 7:32:18 am
Second wave: On the ground, oxygen SOS but on the record, zero deathsThe government, however, said there was “unprecedented surge” in demand of medical oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19. (File photo)

NO DEATH due to lack of oxygen has been specifically reported by the states and union territories, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Bharati Pravin Pawar informed Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

In a written reply, Pawar said, “Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by the Union Health Ministry to all states/UTs. Accordingly, all states/UTs report cases and deaths to the Union Health Ministry on a regular basis. However, no deaths due to lack of oxygen has been specifically reported by the states/UTs.”

The government, however, said there was “unprecedented surge” in demand of medical oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19.

“…Government of India has supported the states and undertook a series of actions, including provisioning medical oxygen, and other consumables to ensure clinical care of Covid-19 patients in view of steep rise of Covid-19 trajectory in the country during April-May 2021,” the minister said.

from print

“However, due to unprecedented surge in demand of medical oxygen during the second wave – the demand in the country peaked to nearly 9,000 MT as compared to 3,095 MT during the first wave – the central government had to step in to facilitate equitable distribution to the sates,” Pawar said.

“A dynamic and transparent framework for allocation of medical oxygen in consultation with states/UTs and all the stakeholders such as relevant ministries, manufacturers/ suppliers of liquid oxygen etc. was prepared.”

In a written reply to a separate question, Pawar informed the House that 2,35,986 deaths were reported due to Covid-19 during April-June this year against 16,738 during the corresponding period in last year.

The Congress, however, slammed the government and said it will give notice to move a breach of privilege motion against the minister.

“I am totally surprised by the reply… In every state, including in Delhi, we have seen patients die because of lack of oxygen. We know all that. Actually, the minister misled the House. I will move a breach of privilege motion against the minister. She is giving false information to the House,” Congress Rajya Sabha member K C Venugopal, on whose question the reply was given, told reporters later. “This is the way the Government of India is tackling the Covid situation. This is condemnable,” he said.

Senior Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram too targeted the government.

“There was no just shortage of oxygen… there was an acute shortage of sensitivity and truth. It was there then and is there now,” Rahul said in a tweet in Hindi.

Chidambaram tweeted: “The government has perfected the art of facing every tragedy with bluff and bluster. First, it was no shortage of vaccines. Just yesterday, Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh reported it has run out of vaccines. It is the same story in many vaccination centres. Now, it is ‘no reports of deaths due to shortage of oxygen’… A blind and deaf government will not be able to ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the truth.”

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and AAP leader Manish Sisodia also targeted the Centre on the issue of oxygen shortage.

“There was an actual shortage of oxygen during the second wave’s peak period. The Centre has been running a cover-up since the start of the pandemic. It is because of its flawed policy and implementation that the country had to endure an oxygen crisis during the toughest phase of the pandemic,” he said.

The national capital had, in fact, emerged as the epicentre of the oxygen crisis as SOSes went out from hospitals over several days about medical oxygen running out.

In at least two hospitals, authorities had linked deaths of patients to oxygen shortage.

At Delhi’s Jaipur Golden Hospital, where 21 people died on April 23 night, Dr D K Baluja, the hospital’s medical superintendent, had said: “The Delhi government had written to us saying they will provide 3.6 metric tonnes of oxygen. Though we required more, we agreed to work with this. Last night, the tanker didn’t arrive. We made several calls to authorities and suppliers. Our stocks depleted. After a delay of seven hours, we got 1,000 litres of oxygen. But by then, patients in critical care were affected. This happened after midnight. Some deaths weren’t because of oxygen shortage but other complications too.”

Baluja had also said oxygen pressure was “definitely low”. “A normal patient would have coped but not those with high requirements,” he had said.

At Batra Hospital, 12 people died in the ICU on May 1. Asked whether the deaths took place when the low oxygen supply in the ICU had dropped, Dr S C L Gupta, the hospital’s medical director, had told The Indian Express: “Of course… If the hospital will run without oxygen for half an hour…”

Aditi Priya, a research associate at LEAD at Krea University; Sweta Dash, a researcher interested in public health and welfare rights; and Krushna Ranaware, a graduate student at Syracuse University also documented deaths of patients in hospitals due to oxygen shortage.

In their article “The truth about oxygen deaths during Covid second wave”, published in The Indian Express on July 7, 2021, they say that they have documented that at least 629 patients died due to oxygen shortage in 110 hospitals across the country between April 6 and May 19.

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