The oxygen crisis is starting to unravel in Bengaluru as regular supply remains disrupted across parts of Karnataka.
Three hospitals sent distress signals between 4 pm and 7 pm on May 4, saying their oxygen supply would not last for more than 4-6 hours. They complained that regular suppliers were delaying the delivery and there was no clarity on receiving the next lot on time.
On May 3, three other hospitals in the state capital, faced with a similar crisis, appealed online for help with oxygen supplies. All this comes in the backdrop of 24 people losing their lives in Chamarajanagar district hospital on May 2, allegedly due to oxygen shortage caused by delay in supplies.
The demand for oxygen has tripled in Karnataka, overwhelmed by rising COVID-19 cases in the second wave of the pandemic. “We have nine patients on non-invasive ventilation support and our regular oxygen supplier, Universal Air Products Pvt Ltd, hasn’t delivered the required lot on time. We can manage till 10 pm,” said chief doctor Dr Haraprasad L, at Sree Saiprasad Multispeciality Hospital, Bengaluru. In a 20-bed hospital, the doctor, expressing his helplessness, said, “As a caution of note, we inform relatives accompanying patients to look for alternative options as they could not risk not having oxygen.”
Dr Tulip of Dr Tulip’s Obesity & Diabetes Surgery, Multi-Speciality Centre, said they were in need of 10 jumbo cylinders as 60% of the patients in their 20-bed hospital were on oxygen support. “Our supplier comes once in three days now. We stand in a queue for 8 hours and get the required quantity two times a day. But today we are running short,” the doctor said.
When inquired, the civic body’s (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) nodal officer Nischal said that while they ensure the oxygen supply remained uninterrupted, the requests from hospitals were taken on priority and their needs are met on time.
Following the tragedy in Chamarajnagar, Chief Minister BS Yeddiyurappa called a meeting with six gas manufacturing companies and directed them to ensure uninterrupted and timely supply of oxygen to hospitals. The deputy commissioner of Chamarajanagar district said they had flagged their concern as the expected lot of 250 oxygen cylinders did not arrive on time on Sunday (May 2).
Chamarajnagar District Incharge minister S Suresh Kumar admitted that oxygen was in short supply in the district, but said that all the 24 people who expired in the Chamarajanagar district hospital on May 2, did not die due to lack of oxygen. “Not all deaths were due to oxygen shortage. We are ordering an inquiry and a death audit will reveal the exact cause,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Ashwath Narayan said many hospitals had not augmented the capacity for storage of oxygen. “Many hospitals haven’t built storage tanks and they are still dependent on cylinders, which are not sufficient to cater to their requirements. So, many are running short and have admitted people beyond their capacity.”
The opposition Congress demanded a judicial probe into the Chamarajnagar incident and alleged that the deaths occurred due to government negligence.
Karnataka HC pulls up Centre for oxygen shortage
The Karnataka High Court, which was hearing public interest litigations (PILs) related to COVID-19, rapped the Union government for allocating only 865 tonnes of oxygen against the state’s requirement of 1,700 tonnes.
“How many more people have to die? After two days you will increase the quota? Tell us when you are going to increase the quota…You want people to die?” the court asked the Centre, as reported by Bar and Bench legal news portal.
“We are putting you on notice. We want a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer whether you will increase the cap on the supply of oxygen to 1700 MT. Let your officers know that there is an incident of people dying due to lack of oxygen. The state of Karnataka is recording the highest number of cases every day,” the bench remarked.
The state government informed the High Court that it estimated a requirement of 1,400 tonnes of oxygen as of April 30, but the Union government has allocated only half of it.
Karnataka has been recording over 40,000 cases daily since last one week with a test positivity rate of 29.03%. The active cases increased 10 times in a span of one month (from 30,865 on April 1 to 464363 on May 4).