Close on the heels of 25 critically ill Covid patients dying at Delhi’s Gangaram Hospital which was reeling under oxygen shortage all night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said the Indian Air Force had been deployed to reduce travel time for oxygen supplies.
Faced with the most humongous challenge of his seven-year rule at the Centre, the PM met chief ministers of 11 high-burden states as daily Covid cases crossed the 3.3 lakh mark, continuing to push health systems to the breaking point.
Even as the PM engaged chief ministers on oxygen crisis, hospitals across the national capital took to Twitter to send alarm messages to authorities saying they had only a few hours of oxygen left to sustain patients.
The medical director of Gangaram Hospital on Friday morning said 25 patients had died and over 60 others were in need of medical oxygen supplies.
Similar stories emanated from Delhi’s Holy Family Hospital, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital and several others which have been spending their days flagging critically low oxygen supplies when they should have been tending to sick patients.
Outside Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, desperate family members wailed expressing horror and shock at the state of affairs. A woman whose husband had been lying in the open since last night for want of bed or oxygen broke down saying, “Aise kaise chalega?”
Cries of disbelief and anguish rent the air outside all Delhi hospitals even as state Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was ticked off by the PM for telecasting his live address at the official meet.
Kejriwal was heard saying to PM at the meet, “Please, Mr PM, call up the chief ministers of states that are blocking oxygen supplies to Delhi even after you enhanced our quota and also tell us who should we call in the Centre if reports or supply obstruction continue to come in. Will Delhi gasp for oxygen because we do not have oxygen plants here?”
The PM interrupted Kejriwal as he relayed his address live and said, “What is being done is against the decorum and discipline of the internal meeting. This is not right.”
Kejriwal apologised, saying “Will take care in future and please forgive me for any trespass.”
The PM said railways and the IAF had been pressed into service to smoothen oxygen supply. The PM urged states to come down heavily on hoarders and black-marketers of essential medicines and injections and acknowledged that Covid is now affecting several states as well as Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities at once.
“We have to work together. If we work together our resources won’t look scarce,” said the PM.
On oxygen supply, he said industrial oxygen had been diverted to meet immediate requirement and urged all states to work together and coordinate with one another to fulfil requirements relating to medicines and oxygen.
“Every state should ensure that no oxygen tanker, whether it is meant for any state, is stopped or gets stranded. Every state should set up a high-level coordination committee to carry oxygen to different hospitals. This committee should ensure that as soon as there is allotment of oxygen from the Centre, it can deliver oxygen as per requirement in different hospitals of the state immediately.”
The PM later met leading oxygen manufacturers and urged them to further boost supplies.
After the CMs flagged supply constraints and travel time loss as the major challenges to the oxygen issue, the PM said, “The central government is working all possible options to reduce the travel time and turnaround time of oxygen tankers. For this, the railways has started Oxygen Express. Empty oxygen tankers are also being transported by the Air Force to reduce one-way travel time.”
In an important message to states, the PM urged more testing to detect the latent infections. He said the Centre had provided 13 crore vaccine doses free of cost to the states.
“We will need to work in mission mode to get more and more people vaccinated,” the PM said, urging hospital safety after oxygen tanker leak at a Nashik hospital left 24 dead.