The second COVID-19 wave has left the medical facilities in complete shambles. It has shown us that the established system is not enough to deal with the rising cases. With the rapid spike of COVID-19 cases all over the country, the netizens of the country have started questioning the government. 

On Wednesday, the number of cases rose to 3 lakhs, while the death counter was close to 2,000. Hospitals are overcrowded, beds aren’t available, patients are seen with cylinders on roads, and not much has been offered by the government yet. In such a situation, many are forced to leave their home to fetch the oxygen cylinders for the loved ones, who are battling COVID-19 right now. 

However, the only thing they were able to fetch was hopelessness. The country is undergoing a severe oxygen crisis currently, and the cylinders which were easily available at INR 100-150 can cost up to INR 800-900 today. 

The capacity and the demand

India produces 6900 metric ton of liquid oxygen daily. Out of the total produced, 5000 metric tonnes is being delivered to the hospitals and the industries combined. 

Due to the sudden rise in cases, the current supply to hospitals is at 2,500 metric tonne which is far less than the total produced. 

Then, how come we are facing a crisis? Something doesn’t add up, right? 

The logistics system in India

In a recent interview, health secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas shared that, “The issue is not of supply, it is of transportation and storage”. He added that the system in India was enough until now. However, with the exponential rise in demand, this needs to change. In the past 6 months, the demand for medical oxygen has risen by 3X. 

Medical oxygen in India takes roughly 3 days to reach from the manufacturer to the end-user. Once prepared, this oxygen is transported using tankers, which are currently 1200-1500 in number. Earlier, these were enough to meet the daily demand by the hospitals but now they are not. 

One of the biggest oxygen manufacturers in India is Inox. The manufacturer alone supplies 1400 tonnes of oxygen daily through its network of 550 transportation tankers. These tankers are directed to around 800 hospitals all over India. While these were enough to meet the daily demands comfortably, now the company believes they might fall in short. 

In such a situation, the central government has directed the states to use nitrogen tankers to deal with the urgent oxygen demand. Maharashtra government was able to get 8 tankers to add to the previous list of supply tankers.

Storage system

A COVID-19 patient in his critical condition requires up to 60 litres of oxygen per minute. This implies that a cylinder can last up to an hour max, depending upon the oxygen being given to the patient.

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Considering this, any hospital would require a good amount of storage capacity. However, such facilities are not present in rural areas, as there was never a need for any. Different states are experimenting with different methods, from the installation of oxygen tanks to buying jumbo cylinders. 

Some states have even started the construction of oxygen generation plants. While this might benefit us in the future, the present is yet to be addressed. 

Rise in prices due to COVID-19

An oxygen cylinder used to cost between INR 100 to INR 150. To refill the same, you had to pay INR 1.5 to 2 per cubic metre. Post pandemic, the price of a cylinder has risen to INR 800. Moreover, the refill costs you INR 10-15 per cubic metre. 

Due to the fear of getting COVID-19, people are stocking up cylinders at home. Apart from that, the rise in logistics prices has contributed to the cylinder price too. Private hospitals are charging INR 1500-3000 for a patient per day. However, the actual cost is around INR 300-400 per cylinder.

Considering all this, the government of India has advised hospitals to monitor the oxygen levels of patients daily. The hospitals are also advised to provide oxygen support to only those whose saturated oxygen levels are below 94. Apart from that, the government has also banned the sale of oxygen to industries, especially those who rely on furnaces for production. Recently, the Indian Railways also announced the launch of “Oxygen Express”, which will help in carrying oxygen cylinders all over the country for quick delivery.

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