At least five states, including those not ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, on Wednesday said that there have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen during the devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India. The includes Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Bihar.
This came amidst the Centre facing a huge political backlash for claiming in Parliament that no data was provided by states on deaths due to oxygen shortages, even as the crisis captured global attention.
Earlier in the day, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain alleged that the Centre had blocked the Aam Aadmi Party government’s efforts to investigate each claim of death due to oxygen shortages. “They [Centre] will soon say there was no Covid-19,” he added.
During the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in April to May, shortages of oxygen had forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. Hospitals sent out SOS messages and even approached courts as their oxygen stocks ran dangerously low.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday clarified that there was no record of any death due to shortages of oxygen in the state during both waves of the pandemic, reported The Hindu.
“There is no record of any such case, nor have I made any statement to this effect,” Tope said. “The fatalities that have occurred were due to co-morbidities or other medical ailments.”
Despite the health minister’s assertion, 24 coronavirus patients had died in April due to a leakage in the main storage tank of a hospital in Nashik city. The incident took place at Zakir Hussain Hospital and led to oxygen supply being stopped for around 30 minutes.
Tope had then said the incident was “more of a technical issue”. “The liquid oxygen which was filled in the tank has the temperature of around [minus] 180 degree Celsius,” he said. “There is extreme pressure on the walls of the tank which supplies the oxygen to patients on ventilators.”
Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Prabhuram Choudhary made similar claims, reported PTI.
“There was no death due to shortage of oxygen,” he told reporters in Bhopal. “It is true that there were problems with the availability of oxygen, but the state government ensured supply.”
Minister for Medical Education of the State Vishwas Kailash Sarang also supported him. “During corona time, we procured 600 metric tonnes [of oxygen] per day while our maximum consumption was 457 metric tonnes,” Sarang said. “The record speaks [for itself] and I want to thank the Centre for providing the facilities regarding oxygen procurement, including [pressing] military flights and trains.”
Contrary to their claims, allegations deaths due to lack of oxygen were reported in the state. On April 18, six coronavirus patients had died at the Shahdol Medical College allegedly due to oxygen shortages.
Milind Shiralkar, the dean of the medical facility, had confirmed the toll but not the cause of death. He had admitted that the oxygen level in the tank was running low and authorities had asked for a refill. The truck carrying oxygen for refilling had stopped at Damoh as the drivers do not travel after midnight.
In a similar incident, four Covid-19 patients had died at the District Hospital in Barwani due to problems in oxygen supply, their families had alleged in May, according to NDTV. However, district authorities had claimed that only one person had died and that too of cardiac arrest.
Tamil Nadu Health Minister M Subramaniam told ANI that the government worked on a war footing to prevent deaths due to oxygen shortages. “When we faced lack of oxygen, we came in touch with the Centre at once and procured oxygen from them,” he added. “So we didn’t face big effects here.”
In May, 13 patients died at the Chengalpattu Government Hospital in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday night following an alleged disruption in oxygen supply. However, the district authorities denied that the deaths were caused due to the lack of oxygen.
Chhattisgarh Health Minister TS Singh Deo also said that no deaths were reported in the state due to oxygen shortages during the second wave of the pandemic.
“Our state is an oxygen-surplus state,” he told ANI. “There could have been some issues regarding management, otherwise, there is no death due to lack of oxygen.”
In Chhattisgarh too, four Covid-19 patients had died in the Rajnandgaon district allegedly due to lack of oxygen. Moreover, their bodies were taken for cremation allegedly in a garbage vehicle, according to ANI.
Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey also said the state government made arrangements to avoid deaths due to lack of oxygen, reported ANI. “We received the Centre’s support and oxygen allocation was increased,” he said. “We facilitated oxygen in all hospitals.”