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New Delhi: An empowered group for management of covid-19 has asked the Union health ministry to invite tenders to import 50,000 metric tonnes (mt) of medical-grade oxygen, as local demand soars with the addition of more than 200,000 patients every day. The ministry has also been asked to explore likely sources for oxygen import identified by India’s foreign missions.

The officials presented plans to ensure adequate oxygen supply at a review meeting on Friday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi took stock of the pandemic situation.

Reports from multiple states speak of shortages of vaccines, testing kits, hospital beds, ICUs and crematoria operating round the clock as a second and more severe wave sweeps the country. India recorded 207,980 new covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, according to covid19india.org.

Modi reviewed the state of oxygen supply and projected use in the coming 15 days across 12-high burden states—Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. An overview of the district-level situation in these states was also presented to the prime minister.

Modi reviewed the state of oxygen supply and projected use in the coming 15 days across 12-high burden states
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Modi reviewed the state of oxygen supply and projected use in the coming 15 days across 12-high burden states

The ministries of health, steel, road transport and the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) shared their inputs with Modi, who said it is important to ensure synergy across ministries and state governments.

The Centre and the states are in regular contact, and estimates for projected demand as of 20 April, 25 April and 30 April have been shared with states. Accordingly, 4,880 million tonnes (mt), 5,619 mt and 6,593 mt of oxygen have been allocated to these 12 states for these dates for meeting their projected demand, the government said.

Modi was also briefed about production capacity in the country. Modi suggested raising oxygen production as per the capacity of each plant. The meeting also discussed offering surplus oxygen from steel plants for medical use, a government statement said. “Officials should ensure seamless and free movement of tankers, carrying oxygen throughout the country," said Modi.

The government exempted all inter-state movement of oxygen tankers from registration of permits to enable easier movement and asked states and transporters to ensure tankers move round-the-clock, with drivers working in shifts to ensure faster turnaround.

Cylinder-filling plants will also be permitted to work round-the-clock with necessary safeguards, and industrial cylinders have been allowed to be used for medical oxygen after suitable purging. Similarly, nitrogen and argon tankers will be automatically allowed to be converted to oxygen tankers to overcome any shortage.

Separately, the health ministry on Friday asked all central ministries to issue instructions to hospitals under their control or their public sector units (PSUs) to set up dedicated hospital wards or separate blocks within the hospitals for covid care. The move comes as the surge in infections strains India’s public and private healthcare infrastructure.

According to the Union health ministry, on 12 April, India’s medical oxygen consumption was 3,842 mt; that is, 54% of the daily production capacity. The maximum consumption of medical oxygen in the country is in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Rajasthan. The government also said that at least 100 new hospitals would have their own oxygen plant under the PM-CARES Fund. Currently, there is a production capacity of around 7,127 mt for oxygen in the country.

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