Centre steps up COVID mitigation strategy amid oxygen crisis, case spike

DCGI approves new drug and government prepares to airlift 23 oxygen generating plants from Germany as India sets another grim record of 3.32 lakh fresh COVID infections

The Indian Air Force has been told to keep its aircraft ready to bring the plants once paperwork is completed | Photo: Wikicommons

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met chief ministers from 12 of the worst-hit states in the country as India set a world record for the most number of daily cases for the second day in a row on Friday.

The Union health ministry said that 3,32,730 new cases and 2,263 deaths were registered in the last 24 hours. Amid the surge 25 critical patients died at Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi while a fire at a facility in Vasai, Maharashtra, claimed 13 lives.

In view of the worsening oxygen supply situation in the country, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) gave emergency use approval to Zydus Cadila’s anti-viral drug ‘Virafin’.

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Also read: DCGI clears Vivafin, drug may ease respiratory distress in COVID patients

Multiple trials showed that patients who were administered Virafin needed less supplemental oxygen and showed less respiratory distress and failure – a significant problem observed during the second wave. Zydus Cadila said that the probability of a COVID patient recovering in seven days, after the administration of Virafin was 80.36 per cent. In comparison, existing treatments guarantee complete recovery in only 68.18 per cent cases.

In yet another step to ease the situation, towards the evening the Ministry of Defence said it will airlift 23 mobile oxygen generating plants from Germany. Each plant will have the capacity to produce 2,400 litres of oxygen per hour, they said.

Also read: India to airlift 23 mobile oxygen generating plants from Germany

A Bharat Bhushan Babu, principal spokesperson, Ministry of Defence, said the plants will be deployed in Armed Forces Medical Services hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.

The Indian Air Force has been told to keep its transport aircraft ready to bring the plants once paperwork is completed, one official said, adding more plants could be procured from abroad.

Earlier during his meeting with the CMs, Modi asked all states to set up high-level coordination committees to carry oxygen to hospitals on demand. The PM asked the states to stay united in this critical juncture and assured full support from the Centre for the same.

Also read: Modi tells states to ensure smooth movement of oxygen tankers

During the meeting, Kejriwal made an earnest appeal to the PM to make the required phone calls to ensure the airlifting of oxygen from Odisha and West Bengal to the national capital, which for the past few days has been reeling under acute crisis of medical oxygen to cater to COVID patients.

Kejriwal’s talk with the PM, however, was televised, which was against the protocol. Government sources called Kejriwal’s appeal a political gimmick while asserting that the interaction between him and Modi was not meant to be televised.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court made it clear that it had not transferred to itself cases involving measures to combat COVID pending in high courts.

Also read: We haven’t stopped HCs, says SC, upset over lawyers’ remarks

It allowed senior advocate Harish Salve to withdraw as amicus curiae (for assisting the court) for the case. The court took on its own relating to essential supplies to combat COVID.

The SC reacted sharply to criticism that it wanted to take over COVID-related cases being heard by various high courts, saying senior lawyers were ascribing motives when there were none. Justice LN Rao, a part of bench headed by outgoing CJI SA Bobde, said that even without reading the order or it being released, “non-existent” intentions were being imputed.

“Is this the way orders are spoken of outside even when no orders passed?” Justice Rao asked.

The bench, which also comprised Justice S Ravindra Bhat, criticised senior advocate Dushyant Dave for his response to its order without reading the judgment. “We never said a word and did not stop the HC. We asked the Centre to go to HC and report to them. What kind of perception are you talking about! Talk about these proceedings,” the bench told Dave, adding, “you have imputed motives to us without reading the order.”

Dave, in response, said it was a genuine perception as the court had done it in the past.

‘This Is On You’

The Congress criticised the government’s handling of the crisis, with Rahul Gandhi tweeting: “Corona can cause a fall in oxygen level but it is the oxygen shortage and lack of ICU beds which is causing many deaths. Government of India, this is on you.”

Also read: Rahul Gandhi on oxygen crisis: ‘Government of India, this is on you’

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