Government must get it right on oxygen supply

By: |
May 08, 2021 6:30 AM

SC foregrounds the Centre’s poor planning; need to emulate best practices gleaned from states

oxygen, covidThe Union Government would have to take decision on recommendations of the task force, which has to start working immediately and would continue for a period of six months. The Task Force is supposed to take up and determine the “pressing issue” of the modalities of oxygen within a week.

The Supreme Court’s severe criticism of the Centre’s medical-grade oxygen-supply policy reflects poorly on the latter’s management capabilities and should serve as a wake- up call. On Thursday, the apex court pointed out the government’s expert committee had failed to take cognisance of the “most obvious points” asking it to do a “complete revamp” of the allocation formula. The formula links the allocation of oxygen to only the number of beds in the hospitals in a state and the number of active cases. What has not been taken into account was the requirement of oxygen in homes for those who could not be admitted to the hospitals due to the acute shortage of beds. Moreover, the ‘expert committee’ while allocating 24 litres per minute for an ICU bed and 10 litres of oxygen per minute for 50% of the non-ICU beds, does not seem to have budgeted for oxygen needed in ambulances and Covid-care facilities, apart from logistical issues relating to transportation and turnaround time. Such a lack of diligence is incomprehensible. Delhi has been complaining it has received far less than the quantities it had asked for; the national capital territory had put in a request for 700 metric tonnes of oxygen and a High Court bench pointed out on Wednesday, the SC had ordered that Delhi be given 700 mt, not 490 mt.

On Friday, the SC observed that the Karnataka HC order for the supply of 1,200 mt oxygen is reasonable, adding the HC could not remain silent when people were dying in the state—thereby refusing to entertain the Centre’s plea against the HC’s order. It is indeed unfortunate that not adequate attention is being paid to matters that can save people’s lives. As the SC observed, we need a new panel that will ensure equitable and fair distribution of resources as also provide guidance to various authorities on tackling the crisis. Moreover, there is the need to start creating buffer stocks of all critical medicines and oxygen; otherwise, we could end up with an even bigger crisis when the third wave of the pandemic hits us. This is critical because the pace of vaccinations has slowed sharply; there has been a continuous fall in the daily doses injected over the past three weeks. Since the second week of April, vaccinations have dropped by about 48%, on a pan-India basis. The lack of preparedness on the vaccine front could cost us dearly. It is all very well to talk about a peak, but the positivity rate is still over 20% at a time when the testing isn’t adequate.

Given the shortage of vaccines, it is imperative the states and the Centre work together to combat the pandemic and draw from each other’s strengths. On Wednesday, Justice D Y Chandrachud had lauded the efforts of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), observing it had done some remarkable work. The judge noted that perhaps Delhi could take a look at what the BMC had done. In this hour of crisis, the different arms of government, the states and the Centre all need to co-operate and adopt each other’s best practices. The war rooms in every municipal ward in Mumbai, manned by public school teachers who triage patients and assign them to hospitals seems to be working well. It is also to the credit of the authorities that the BMC has been given enough leeway to take these decisions.

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