Karnataka Health Minister Dr Sudhakar K, in an interview to The News Minute, said that the state government is taking measures to produce and store more medical oxygen in anticipation of the third wave of coronavirus infections. A massive spike in cases in the second wave had exposed the flaws in the medical infrastructure especially with respect to high-flow oxygen intensive care units, leading to an increased number of deaths. While the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state was 12,567 as per the March 31 bulletin, the death numbers rose to 32,291 as per the June 9 bulletin.\
Dr Sudhakar defended the government and claimed that no expert had recommended such a huge wave and that many people would be impacted. He said there was a substantial increase in the number of oxygenated beds. “From about 2,500 oxyegenated beds we had in our health department system in the first wave, we had increased them up to around 23,000 by the time the second wave hit. Similarly, hospitals under the Medical Education Department also added around 5,000 oxygenated beds,” he added“Now every government hospital from the taluk level will have oxygen generation units (air separator units). In all medical college attached hospitals across the state, we are considering installing plants which can generate 1,000-1200 litres of oxygen per minute. We are also going to increase liquid oxygen storage capacity at every level,” he said.
The Health Minister explained that the oxygen generated from the units at hospitals can cater to patients who are moderately ill but critical patients needing ICU or ventilators will require liquid oxygen only. “For the third wave, we will have a buffer stock of not only oxygen but also all sorts of medicines,” he added.
Dr Sudhakar also spoke about how the state is also making preparations for pediatric facilities and has formed a task force in anticipation of children being the vulnerable demographic as suggested by some experts.
“The committee is about to give its final recommendations with regards to increasing the pediatric facilities in the districts. We have to really strengthen pediatric ICUs, more so in the districts. What we have currently is around average 10 such beds, we are going to increase it to around 80-100. Even at the taluk level, we are trying to make improvements. We are also hiring adequate numbers of specialists to treat the public,” he explained.
The minister also sounded hopeful about relaxing lockdown restrictions from next week. A strict lockdown was put in place on April 27 night. “The restrictions will be eased in a staggered manner,” he said, adding that the state has already started relaxing norms for certain sectors of businesses.
“As per experts' opinion, if the positivity rate is less than 5% and the cases are less than 5,000, restrictions can be lifted,” he said.