Goa on Friday became the sixth state to claim that there have been no deaths due to lack of oxygen during the devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India, reported PTI. Earlier, the Centre and the five states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Bihar had made similar claims.

“Not a single Covid-19 patient died due to oxygen shortage at the GMCH [Goa Medical College and Hospital],” Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has told the Legislative Assembly on Friday. In the written reply to a question tabled on the floor of the House by Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat, the minister claimed, “At no point in time, the oxygen supplies at GMCH ran out of stock and thus, no death has been reported to have [been] caused due to non-supply of oxygen.”

Rane’s statement is in sharp contrast to what he had said two months ago. On May 11, Rane had admitted there was a shortage of oxygen at the state-run hospital.

He had said that the medical oxygen requirement at the facility as of May 11 was 1,200 jumbo cylinders, of which only 400 were supplied. “If there’s a shortfall in the supply of medical oxygen, the discussion should be held about how to bridge that gap,” he had said.

Twenty-six coronavirus patients died at GMCH between 2 am and 6 am on May 11.

The state health minister had confirmed the deaths but remained evasive about the cause. However, he had sought a probe by the High Court.

“The High Court should investigate the reasons behind these deaths,” Rane had said. “The High Court should also intervene and prepare a white paper on oxygen supply to the GMCH, which would help to set the things right.”

During the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in April to May, shortages of oxygen had forced families and friends of patients around the country to plead for help on social media. Hospitals sent out SOS messages and even approached courts as their oxygen stocks ran dangerously low.

The Centre faced 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. Days later, it 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.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had called out the Centre for its “shortage” of sensitivity and truth. The Aam Aadmi Party had said the Centre rubbed salt in the wounds of those who had lost someone because of oxygen shortages.

Public health experts also criticised the Centre. Epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya had told The Hindu 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.

Oxygen crisis in India

India struggled with a grave oxygen crisis in the second wave of the pandemic in April-May. The shortage 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.

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