Second wave of COVID-19 has been spreading like wildfire in a jungle, and the people in India are suffering the worst effect of it. The mutated Chinese Virus is spreading at a much faster rate that we have tackled during the first wave of this virus in the year 2020, also the death toll is significantly higher. The difference is evident through official figures of the government records, where in 2020 September, saw around 1 lakh cases daily which was considered as the peak period, but what we are witnessing right now is substantial surge in the number of cases, at around 3.5 lakh cases daily and this isn’t the peak for this virus yet.
Why is there so much Stress on Oxygen?
Among many reasons for the pandemonium amid this second wave of the pandemic, is an acute shortage of Oxygen at the hospitals across the country. As we know that oxygen level suddenly drops in a person affected by the virus it becomes important to make the supply of Oxygen to the human body. Because of a whole slew of patients in the hospitals every day it has become critical for hospitals to arrange Oxygen at the same time a struggle is also seen between the Hospitals and the government be it state or the central government. Hospitals are making applications and letters to the state governments to ensure adequate oxygen supplies to the hospitals.
Oxygen being a critical component in the treatment covid asks for its ready availability. Meanwhile everywhere this hue and cry is continuing stating there is a shortage of Oxygen in the country. Various petitions in the high courts of different states have been filed to direct the state government to ensure the supply of Oxygen to the hospitals. The state government has been blaming the central government for this crisis.
The International reaction has too been overwhelming where countries like France, Saudi Arabia, USA, Russia, Germany and even countries like Bhutan are playing their part to extend a helping hand for India, to make adequate supply of Oxygen in the country along with other necessary medical supplies. But is there a real shortage of oxygen supply in the country or are there any other variables involved?
Capacity: Is it Scarce in India?
Currently, production of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) in India has increased to 9,103 metric tons from previous 7,259 metric tons which was produced before 24th April. (figures based on the reports of The Indian Express). The PMO office has further confirmed that the production of LMO is likely to cross the mark of 9,250 metric tons per day. These official figures tell us that although the production capacity has revamped but still the demand remained under 7,259 metric tons per day. These figures are with regards to the company producing LMO for the hospital apart from this the industrial units in the country have the production capacity for Oxygen in gaseous state of around 60000- 70000 tonnes and there are 33 of such units which can liquify around 10 % of gaseous Oxygen produced. Now the question arises, what/where is the real problem?
The Real Problem
The problem lies not with the capacity of production of LMO but with the transportation of it. Oxygen is supplied to industries as well as the industries and there are companies like the Inox Airs and Linde India which supplies the LMO to the hospitals. The Oxygen is supplied in cryogenic containers which are specialized double skin vacuum-insulated to store and carry Oxygen at -180 degree Celsius. In India there is a shortage of these special cryogenic container trucks because Oxygen is short of supply.
The Oxygen producing plants will be found mostly on the eastern side of the country so long distances will also have to be travelled by these trucks. India in total has around 1224 oxygen tankers which isn’t adequate considering present times. One of the variables is also the stoppage of these tankers by a state from where the tanker has to pass through to get the supply of oxygen to another state. The state that should give a free pass to these trucks use the oxygen in the transit and this creates further problems.
The companies which are producing Oxygen are also not wanting to procure any additional tankers. They are of the view that the containers they have are sufficient for normal supply and this is a contingent and temporary situation, the additional cost that they may put in procure additional tankers will be a big loss for them.
Measures: Government in Action
- The central government is, on its own, trying to procure additional cryogenic container trucks,
- Indian Railways have already started running special trains to supply the cryogenic trucks from one state to another to save on time and cost.
- Additionally, in this pursuit the Indian Air Forces (IAF) has been entrusted with the task of ensuring oxygen supply and they have deployed their assets like, cargo planes of the IAF namely C17 Globemaster to airlift the empty containers from the different Airbases and take it to the Oxygen producing plants so that timely supply is ensured.
- Even the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is providing the Onboard Oxygen Generators, that are used in the indigenously built fighter aircraft “Tejas” to make oxygen, to be supplied to hospitals to ensure adequacy of oxygen.
Some of the prominent India business houses like Tata group, Adani Group, Reliance Industries and even the companies abroad like Microsoft and Google have extended their hands in providing oxygen supplies as well as funds for setting up of oxygen generation plants across the country.
Although the government seems to be in action to make every such arrangement that may be necessary amid this distress and even the big business houses both from India and help from abroad by different countries seems like an extraordinary ray of hope. But will this be enough to battle the current tsunami of cases, when even we have not reached the peak, or the government instead of a long-term strategy put its focus on calling the shots on the current situation.