Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that the production of liquid medical oxygen in India has grown by more than 10 times amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In normal times, India was producing 900 metric tonnes of liquid medical oxygen every day,” Modi said during his monthly radio programme, “Mann ki baat”. “It has now increased to 9,500 metric tonnes per day.”
The prime minister added that supplying medical oxygen to remote places was a huge challenge, but the drivers of cryogenic oxygen tankers, the Air Force and Railways worked on a war-footing and helped save lakhs of lives.
In April, the central government had claimed India was consuming less than 60% of its daily oxygen production for medical use. “The country has a daily production capacity of 7127 MT [metric tonnes] of oxygen per day,” said the health ministry in a press statement on April 15. “On 12th April 2021, the medical oxygen consumption in the country was 3842 MT [metric tonnes], that is 54 percent of the daily production capacity.” Additionally, the ministry claimed there were stocks in excess of 50,000 metric tonnes.
However, India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic. The acute shortages of oxygen and medicines forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. The Opposition has heavily criticised the Centre for the crippling shortages of medical supplies, and courts had also pulled up the Centre.
The country’s oxygen crisis could have been partly diffused had India utilised the past year to create localised solutions in the form of small-scale oxygen generation plants within hospitals on a war footing.
It takes just four to six weeks to install a Pressure Swing Adsorption oxygen generator at a hospital, said industry players and government officials. The average cost comes to just Rs 1.25 crore, based on the Centre’s outlay of Rs 201 crore for 162 oxygen plants.
But an investigation by Scroll.in showed that the central government took eight months to float a tender, and six months later, PSA oxygen plants were operational in only five of the 60 hospitals we called. Hours after the report was published, the health ministry admitted only 33 of the 162 PSA oxygen plants it had commissioned had been installed.
Modi on Sunday added that the country was fighting the coronavirus pandemic with all its strength. He praised frontline workers for their efforts in combating the health crisis. “Our frontline workers are serving the people,” he said. “They have to wear PPE kits in the extreme heat while collecting samples for tests.”
The prime minister spoke about how testing facilities had been expanded in India. “In the beginning of the pandemic, there was only one testing lab in the country, but today there are more than 2,500,” Modi said. “Initially, a few hundred tests were done in a day, now more than 20 lakh tests are being conducted each day.”
On May 1, India had hit a grim new record by crossing 4 lakh daily cases, the highest single-day count recorded by any country in the world. This was surpassed on May 7, when India recorded 4.14 lakh daily cases.
Now, India has begun to register a decline in daily new coronavirus cases. On Sunday, the country reported 1,65,553 infections, taking its tally of infections to 2,78,94,800 since the pandemic broke out in January last year. This is the lowest number of new infections recorded in a single day in 46 days. The country’s toll rose to 3,25,972 as it recorded 3,460 deaths in the last day.