The Centre has asked the states and Union territories to share data on deaths due to the shortage of oxygen during the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, PTI reported on Tuesday. This comes days after the government faced severe criticism for denying that there were any deaths due to scarcity of the life-saving gas.
The government is likely present the data in the Parliament before the Monsoon Session ends on August 13, unidentified officials told ANI. Both the Houses of Parliament have seen stormy sessions as the Opposition has repeatedly cornered the Centre over its handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic in April-May. The shortages of the life-saving gas as well as medicines and hospital beds forced families and friends of patients to plead for help on social media. Hospitals sent out SOS messages as their oxygen stocks ran dangerously low.
On May 1, at least 12 patients died at the Batra Hospital in Delhi after the facility fell short of oxygen. The hospital had confirmed that the deaths had taken place because of lack of oxygen.
On April 23, at least 20 patients under critical care died at Jaipur Golden Hospital in North West Delhi. The hospital cited a dip in oxygen pressure and approached the High Court to seek help in maintaining continuous supply.
In Karnataka’s Chamarajnagar, 24 patients died after a district hospital ran out of oxygen on May 2, though authorities insist not all deaths can be ascribed to the shortage.
Courts had pulled up the government for the acute shortages of oxygen. On May 4, the Allahabad High Court had said that deaths of patients in hospitals due to a lack of oxygen “is a criminal act and not less than a genocide” by authorities.
Despite this, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar had told the Parliament on July 20 that states did not specifically report any deaths due to oxygen shortages.
The minister, while answering questions from Congress Rajya Sabha MP KC Venugopal, had added that health was a State Subject. “Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by Union Health Ministry to all states/UTs [Union territories], she had said. “Accordingly, all states/UTs report cases and deaths to Union Health Ministry on a regular basis.”
Pawar’s answer drew heavy criticism from the Opposition. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called out the Centre for its “shortage” of sensitivity and truth.
The Aam Aadmi Party said the Centre rubbed salt into the wounds of those who had lost someone to oxygen shortage.
“They [Centre] will soon say there was no Covid-19,” Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain had said. “If there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen, then why were hospitals going to the high court for shortages? This is completely false.”
Public health experts also criticised the Centre. Epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya had told The Hindu on July 21 that the Centre’s “bureaucratic response” was contrary to the public experience, adding that a more empathetic view of the crisis was needed to avoid repeating the mistakes.
All India Drug Action Network Covener Malini Aisola said: “There is a reality that cannot be erased from public memory – of hospitals owners making daily appeals for oxygen supplies, to media and to courts, and sharing death tolls due to oxygen running out.”