‘Beg, borrow or steal but provide oxygen’, Delhi HC tells Centre; fresh curbs in Maharashtra-India News , Technomiz”

‘Beg, borrow or steal but provide oxygen’, Delhi HC tells Centre; fresh curbs in Maharashtra-India News , Technomiz”

India saw another record high of 2,95,041 new COVID cases and 2,023 deaths on Wednesday, and the oxygen crisis appeared to have intensified with complaints of shortage from several states

As India grapples with a shortage of oxygen and other medical supplies due to spiralling COVID-19 cases, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to provide oxygen “by whatever means necessary” to the hospitals in the National Capital.

“Why is the Centre not waking up to the gravity of the situation?” the high court asked.

“We are shocked and dismayed that hospitals are running out of oxygen but steel plants are running,” the high court bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli observed.

This came as India saw another record high of 2,95,041 new COVID cases and 2,023 deaths on Wednesday, and the oxygen crisis, precipitated by the second wave that has left tens of thousands hospitalised, appeared to intensify with complaints of shortage from several states.

In Maharashtra, tragedy struck a hospital when 24 patients on ventilator support suffocated to death due to leakage in an oxygen storage tank.

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government late Wednesday evening announced fresh restrictions to be imposed in the state from 8 pm on 22 April to 7 am on 1 May. Contrary to expectation, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray did not announce the new restrictions himself, unlike last time. The government notification also did not use the world ‘lockdown’ in its order.

Some of these new curbs include reducing attendance in government offices to 15 percent (barring emergency services), bringing down attendance in private offices from 50 percent to 15 percent, allowing private buses to ply at 50 percent capacity with no standees, and restricting attendance at weddings to only 25 people and the function itself to two hours.

Also on Wednesday, the Serum Institute of India announced that its Covishield vaccine will be made available to state governments at a price of Rs 400 per dose and to private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose.

In a statement issued on its Twitter handle, the Pune-based company on Tuesday said it will address the limited capacity by scaling up the vaccine production over the next two months.”Going ahead, 50 percent of our capacities will be served to the Government of India’s vaccination programme, and the remaining 50 percent of the capacity will be for the state governments and private hospitals,” it said.

This announcement comes just two days after the Centre on Monday announced that the third phase of the coronavirus vaccination drive will open for all persons above age 18 from 1 May.

On the other vaccination front, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala and Chhattisgarh announced free jabs for all aged above 18 years. Earlier, Uttar Pradesh and Assam had made a similar decision while officials presented data to assert that the vaccines reduce the risk of infection and prevent death and severe infection.

‘Beg, borrow or steal’

The Delhi High Court heard an emergency hearing late Wednesday, on a plea filed by Balaji Medical and Research Centre, urging the Centre to provide oxygen by whatever means necessary.  “We want you to undertake maximum procurement from all sources. Beg, borrow, steal, whatever, you have to provide it,” the bench observed.

The court said the responsibility to ensure oxygen supply is squarely on the Central government’s shoulders and if necessary, the entire supply of oxygen to industries including steel and petroleum can be diverted for medical usage. “Heavens are not going to fall if the industries, including steel and petroleum, run on lower capacity till oxygen is imported,” the court stated.  It added that certainly “all hell will break loose” with the stoppage of medical oxygen for hospitals.

“The steel and petrochemical industries are oxygen guzzlers and diverting oxygen from there can meet hospitals’ requirements,” the bench said. “If Tatas can divert oxygen they are generating for their steel plants to medical use, why can’t others? This is the height of greed. Is there no sense of humanity left or not,” the court asked.

It said the Centre shall consider ways and means for transporting oxygen to hospitals, either by creating a dedicated corridor or airlift it from the place of production to the place of usage.

The bench said, “We are constrained to direct the Centre to forthwith implement this order and take over supply of oxygen from steel plants and if necessary also from the petroleum plants, to supply it to hospitals.”

It said such industries will have to stop their productions till the situation in hospitals improves and asked directed them to increase their oxygen production generated by them and give it to the Centre for supply in other states for medical use.

“Our concern is not just for Delhi, we want to know what the Central government is doing with regard to oxygen supply across India,” the bench said and added, “what is the central government doing. If this is the situation in Delhi, we are sure it is the same in other states.”

Blame game over oxygen crisis intensifies

At a press conference, NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul appealed to the states, hospitals and nursing homes to ensure rational use of oxygen as it was a “life-saving” drug for the coronavirus infected patients.

Noting that 7,500 MT of oxygen was being produced in the country per day and 6,600 MT is being allocated to states for medical purposes, the Centre said the Union government and state governments need to work together and respond promptly to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The Centre’s response came as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra indulged in a blame game and squabbled over oxygen distribution while demanding an increase in their quota. On Wednesday, several hospitals in the National Capital like Sir Ganga Ram City Hospital, St Stephen’s Hospital and Holy Family Hospital in Okhla said they only had oxygen for two to five hours. Other hospitals too had been facing a depleting stock for the last few days.

Later in the evening, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had claimed a “serious oxygen crisis”, said that Delhi’s oxygen quota has been increased and thanked the Centre. Deputy Chief Minister Sisodia accused the Haryana government of blocking medical oxygen supply to Delhi, but the Haryana government vehemently refuted the allegations.

Haryana health minister Anil Vij said given the increased demand for oxygen due to a surge in coronavirus cases, his state can spare the supply for others only after meeting its demand. He alleged that a tanker carrying medical oxygen for COVID patients in hospitals, which was going from Panipat to Faridabad, was ”looted” by the Delhi government and said all oxygen tankers will now move with a police escort.

Nashik was the worst-hit city in the country in terms of cases per million residents, according to the Union health ministry’s data compiled between 16 March and 15 April from major cities. The state health minister had on Tuesday said the state was “managing with 1,550 metric tonnes of oxygen” per day at present and is going to buy oxygen generators, besides using thermal power plants for oxygen production.

In Latur, relatives of COVID-19 patients took to the streets after a private hospital claimed a shortage of oxygen. Last week, at least six COVID-19 patients died in the ICU of a government hospital in Madhya Pradesh’s Shahdol allegedly due to low pressure in the medical oxygen supply.

Expressing concern over the situation, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said, “India is among the largest producing countries in the field of oxygen, medicine and vaccine production. Yet deaths are occurring due to lack of oxygen and medicines in the country, which is unfortunate.”

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh wrote to Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, seeking a daily allocation of at least 120 metric tonnes (MT) of oxygen for the state. The Tamil Nadu government said it would take up with the Centre, diversion of about 45 metric tonnes of medical oxygen from a city plant to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, even as it asserted that the state had adequate stocks of oxygen.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath directed the officials to install GPS devices on oxygen tankers and provide adequate security to oxygen plants

‘Number of breakthrough infections very small’

The Centre sought to quell the panic by presenting a slew of statistics to show the severity and virulence in the ongoing second wave of the contagion are about the same as the first one. The government, however, cautioned that there is no clear sign of any downtrend in the COVID-19 graph yet.

The Centre said only 21,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 after taking the first dose of either Covishield or Covaxin, while over 5,500 contracted the infection after taking the second dose.

Addressing a press conference, ICMR director general Balram Bhargava said 0.04 percent of 17,37,178 individuals, who received the second dose of Covaxin, tested positive for COVID-19 , while 0.03 percent of 1,57,32,754 people, who took the second dose of Covishield, contracted the infection.

Bhargava who presented the data said vaccines reduce the risk of infection and prevent death and severe infection. “After vaccination, if one gets infection then it is known as breakthrough infection,” he said.

So far, 1.1 crore doses of Covaxin have been administered of which 93 lakh received the first dose and out of that 4,208 (0.04 percent) people got the infection which is four per 10,000 individuals. About 17,37,178 people received the second dose of which only 695 (0.04 per cent) tested positive for COVID-19 , Bhargava said.

Of Covishield, 11.6 crore doses have been given. Ten crores received the first dose and 17,145 i.e. 2 per 10,000 people contracted the infection. About 1,57,32,754 individuals took the second dose of covishield and of that 5,014 (0.03 percent) got infected. “Two to four per 10,000 breakthrough infections have occurred, a very small number. This was mainly healthcare workers prone to more occupational hazards,” he said.

According to the data, 5,709 people contracted the infection after the second dose of either of the two vaccines. “This is a very small number and not at all worrisome. Secondly, the highly transmissible second wave also contribute minuscule to the percentage so this could have been even zero per cent,” he said.

‘India fastest to vaccinate 13 crore’

The health ministry on Wednesday claimed India has become the fastest country to administer 13 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses, taking just 95 days to do so. The US took 101 days to administer these many doses, while China 109 days, the ministry said.

Cumulatively, 13,01,19,310 doses have been administered in India through 19,01,413 sessions, according to the provisional report till 7 am. These include 92,01,728 healthcare workers (HCWs) who have taken the first dose and 58,17,262 HCWs who have got their second dose. These also include 1,15,62,535 frontline workers (FLWs) who have got their first dose and 58,55,821 FLWs who have taken their second dose.

Also, 4,73,55,942 above-60 beneficiaries have been administered the first dose and 53,04,679 the second dose. In the 45-60 age category, 4,35,25,687 individuals have taken their first dose and 14,95,656 the second dose. Eight states, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala – account for 59.25 percent of the total doses given in the country so far, the ministry said.

It also said that 29,90,197 vaccine doses were given in the country on day 95 of the vaccination drive (20 April), which include 19,86,711 beneficiaries across 42,384 sessions for the first dose, and 10,03,486 for the second dose.

‘Liberalised vaccination strategy may pose logistical challenges’

While the liberalised vaccination strategy is an ambitious one, its implementation could pose several logistical challenges, health experts told Technomiz.

Even as the number of people eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine will rise manifold after 1 May, concerns over adequate supplies are being expressed from multiple quarters. In the past few weeks, states like Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan have raised alarm bells over shortages of vaccines.

While there have been announcements on plans to augment manufacturing capacity, it isn’t clear if these will be enough. Bharat Biotech has announced in a press release on Tuesday that it has ‘implemented capacity expansion’ across multiple facilities to reach over 700 million doses per year. On 27 March, Adar Poonawalla announced on Twitter that Serum Institute and Novavax hope to launch the vaccine Covovax by September 2021.

France imposes restrictions on travellers from India

France will impose new entry restrictions on travellers from India to fight a contagious coronavirus variant spreading in that country, an official said on Wednesday. The restrictions come in addition to those previously announced regarding four other countries Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Brazil that will be implemented starting from Saturday.d.

France suspended all flights from Brazil earlier this month in an effort to curb the spread of a new COVID-19 variant found in the South American country. The temporary measure is to be replaced Saturday by tight travel restrictions regarding a list of now five countries, including a mandatory 10-day quarantine with police checks to ensure people arriving in France observe the requirement.

France is also requiring more stringent testing for the coronavirus on travellers from these countries, who will need to pass a mandatory antigen test upon their arrival, in addition to a pre-boarding PCR test. A variant first identified in England is now responsible for about 80 percent of the virus cases in France, while the variants are first seen in Brazil and South Africa make up less than 4 percent of French infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran said last week.

With inputs from PTI

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