On May 4, Karnataka woke up to the tragic news that 24 patients had died at the Chamarajanagar Institute of Medical Sciences (CIMS) due to low oxygen supply. In a few hours, at least three hospitals in Bengaluru city sent frantic messages, alerting authorities to their dwindling oxygen supply. By that night, two more patients had died. According to figures provided by the Karnataka government, the situation is expected to become even more grave if the cases do not decrease.
Chief Secretary of Karnataka, P Ravi Kumar told TNM that the state requires more oxygen urgently and this has been communicated to the Union government even as recently as April 30, when the State Health and Family Welfare Department wrote to the Centre.
â€śThe medical oxygen allotted earlier to us was 300 tonnes per day, it was increased to 865 tonnes. But we will need 1792 tonnes per day, and we have informed the Union government,â€ť the chief secretary told TNM.
Six private manufacturers, including JSW Steel and Praxair, in the state have a combined capacity to produce 825 tonnes of medical oxygen per day. Of this, Karnatakaâ€™s allocation was around 300 tonnes per day. As cases of coronavirus infections started increasing, the state wrote to the Union government and the allocation was increased to 865 tonnes per day. Out of this, 675 tonnes was from liquid oxygen produced in Karnataka and the rest was diverted from other states.
The chief secretary said that around 140 tonnes of medical oxygen is being diverted from oxygen plants in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
But this amount is not enough for Karnataka, where that entire allotment is being used daily as well as its reserves. As of April 3, Karnataka has 4,44,734 COVID-19 patients. Though the state has written to the Union government, they have not yet received a response.
â€śThe problem is that not only are patients increasing, but the requirement for oxygen also is increasing,â€ť the chief secretary pointed out. He also adds that while supply of medical oxygen faces a shortage, there are logistical issues and other distribution problems.
â€śWe don't have enough oxygen, so logistically it's tough. These hospitals that are running out of oxygen depend on cylinders. Earlier they used to fill a cylinder once in three days. Now they have to fill it three times in a day. And even this filling takes time. Even if a tanker goes from Bengaluru to Ballari (where most plants are situated), it takes four to five hours to fill the tankers and then it has to travel back to Bengaluru,â€ť he said.
The chief secretary said that they have asked hospitals to send messages 48 hours in advance so that the government can make alternate arrangements.
â€śWe (the government) do not produce oxygen, we are only facilitating the supply,â€ť he said.