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OPINION: The oxygen-starved nation

Attendants of COVID19 patients collecting Oxygen cylinders at a Government Hospital in Srinagar on Monday, April 26, 2021 (KM/Umar Ganie)

For the last few days, our social media timelines are flooded with pictures and videos of ambulances waiting outside the hospitals, mass cremations, patients struggling for oxygen, and attendants wailing and crying in helplessness.

The grotesque scenes on roads have broken the hearts of even stonehearted people. Once buzzing with life, our cities have turned into a large crematorium. People have been waiting in long queues for hours to cremate their dear ones. Even some footpaths have been turned into crematoriums. Victims were cremated on the roadside to avoid the decomposition of bodies. In some cities, the waiting in crematoriums was 17 hours. Some cities were running short of wood for cremation. Some grisly pictures of people dying inside cars and hospital porches for want of oxygen have brought back the memories of the great famine

Frantic calls for help have shaken our inner core. Tweets for help by who-is-who of this country have made us paupers despite having money and resources. The oxygen we inhale has become the rarest commodity in the COVID era. Despite having money, liquid medical oxygen is not available. Our hospitals are running short of oxygen. Medical grade oxygen has to be imported. Some Public Sector Undertakings, which were to be disinvested, had to be made operational to produce medical grade oxygen.  

Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), the corporate entity of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP), which was on top of the disinvestment list, has supplied more than 9000 tonnes of LMO (Liquid Medical Oxygen)   to different states including Maharashtra. Telangana government airlifted tankers to Odisha for oxygen refill. Even LMO was imported from Germany to meet the needs.

Medical grade oxygen is used for treating COVID patients whose saturation levels dip to an alarming level.  It is a highly concentrated life-saving gas used to improve the saturation level of patients whose lungs are falling due to COVID-induced pneumonia.

There are different methods to produce medical-grade oxygen. Under cryogenic distillation, oxygen is produced in air separation plants. Under this method, the air is cooled and the oxygen is distilled based on its boiling point.

Another method is to produce oxygen through a concentrator machine. It is generated by an electrically operated device. Oxygen can also be produced by pressure swing absorption (PSA) plants. This technology is used by hospitals to produce medical-grade oxygen.

Meanwhile, when the entire country is gasping for air, Kashmir is not facing any shortage of medical oxygen for now, though the COVID 19 cases are witnessing a huge spike.

All the major Covid Hospitals in Srinagar have adequate oxygen generation capacity besides sufficient oxygen cylinders in stock.

SKIMS has three oxygen concentrator plants with a capacity of more than 3000 liters per minute. Plus it has 974 bulk oxygen cylinders in store. Similarly, the Chest Diseases Hospital Srinagar has two oxygen generation plants with a capacity of 500 liters per minute and 430 liters per minute. The hospital is also planning to install another oxygen generation plant in the coming days with a capacity of 1500 liters per minute.  The hospital has 300 bulk cylinders and 250 small-sized cylinders in stock. 

SMHS hospital has three oxygen generation plants with a capacity of 1000 liters per minute. The fourth one is in the process of installation. Around 1850 portable bulk cylinders are in store. As per the official figures, out of 2,500 oxygen-fitted beds, 534 oxygen-supported beds are occupied by Covid positive patients in Jammu and Kashmir.

India has been battered by the second wave of COVID 19. The country’s COVID tally stands at 1,76,36,307 as of Tuesday. Ten states, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi, reported 69.1 percent of the new COVID-19 cases registered in a day, the Union Health Ministry said.

India’s total number of active cases has reached 28,82,204 and comprises 16.34 percent of the total infections. There has been a net increase of 68,546 cases in the total active cases in a span of 24 hours, according to the ministry.

Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Kerala cumulatively account for 69.1 percent of the country’s total active cases. Out of the total cases in the country, active cases constitute 16.43 percent and recoveries 82.54 percent, the ministry said. The daily positivity rate currently stands at 20.02 percent.

India’s cumulative recoveries have surged to 1,45,56,209 with 2,51,827 patients recuperating in a span of 24 hours. Ten states account for 79.70 percent of the new recoveries, according to the ministry.

To fight COVID, India needs to vaccinate 70 percent of the population excluding pregnant women and children. It accounts for 70 crore people. More than 140 crore doses of vaccination are needed to inoculate masses in the country. 

 Union ministry of health and family welfare data reveals that 14,52,71,186 vaccine doses have been administered through 20,74,721 sessions till Monday.

These include 93,24,770 healthcare workers (HCWs) who have taken the first dose. Nearly 60,60,718 HCWs have taken the second dose. Around 1,21,10,258 frontline workers (FLWs) have received the first dose and 64,25,992 FLWs have taken the second dose.

Besides, 5,05,77,743 and 87,31,091 beneficiaries above 60 years of age have been administered the first and second dose respectively, while 4,93,48,238 and 26,92,376 beneficiaries aged 45 to 60 years have taken the first and second dose respectively.

In Jammu and Kashmir, more than 20 lakh people have been vaccinated so far. Of whom, over 13 lakh are citizens above 45 years. There are 27 to 28 lakh citizens above 45 years who ought to be inoculated.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has said the second wave of coronavirus is changing life and the economy dramatically. Sinha said it has been decided that COVID-19 vaccination for people in the age group 18-45 years will be cost-free in the Union Territory. 

(Views expressed are author’s personal. Feedback at [email protected])