Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday at a meeting with government officials on Friday directed authorities to ensure the uninterrupted movement of vehicles carrying medical oxygen as several states across the country complained of shortages of oxygen tanks amid a second wave of coronavirus cases.

At the review meeting attended by senior officials of several ministries, Modi was briefed about the government’s efforts to import medical grade oxygen – 50,000 metric tonnes – in order to bridge the gap between its demand and supply among Covid-19 patients.

The prime minister took a detailed review of the current oxygen supply and its projected use in the coming 15 days across 12 states – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

Modi urged officials to “ensure seamless and free movement” of tankers carrying oxygen throughout the country. To this, the government officials told him that they had exempted all interstate movement of oxygen tankers from registering for permits, so that the suppliers can move around easily. The officials also told the prime minister that transporters had been asked to ensure tankers move round-the-clock with drivers working in shifts to ensure “faster turnaround and adequate capacity”.

“Cylinder filling plants will also be permitted 24 hour working with necessary safeguards,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “The government is allowing industrial cylinders to be used for medical oxygen after due purging. Similarly nitrogen and argon tankers will be automatically allowed to be converted to oxygen tankers to overcome the potential shortage of tankers.”

Modi also suggested that the production of medical oxygen be scaled up as per the capacity of each plant, according to a release by the Prime Minister’s Office. He asked authorities to check how the surplus stocks of industrial oxygen supply in steel plants were being offered for medical use.

‘Ensure smooth interstate movement of oxygen suppliers’

Hours after Modi’s meeting, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to all the states and Union Territories, asking them to ensure smooth inter-city and interstate movement of oxygen suppliers, reported ANI. He also asked authorities to allow the movement of oxygen manufacturers without imposing any time restrictions on them.

Bhalla said the availability of adequate and uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen is an important pre-requisite for managing moderate and severe cases of Covid-19, and that with the increasing cases, medical oxygen supplies will need to keep pace with the requirements of states.

The home secretary emphasised that medical oxygen is an essential public health commodity and any impediment in its supply in the country may critically impact the management of patients suffering from Covid-19.

“Therefore, you are requested to ensure that no such restriction is imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between the states and UTs, and transport authorities shall be instructed to accordingly allow free inter-state movement of oxygen carrying vehicles,” the letter said.

With the total number of coronavirus cases now at more than 1.42 crore, India is the world’s second worst affected country, trailing only the United States. But the growth in infections in India is faster than anywhere else in the world, as cases surge through urban and rural areas.

Not surprisingly, demand for oxygen has risen exponentially. Several patients and their acquaintances have taken to social media to seek assistance to find access to oxygen supplies, remedesivir and hospital beds.

Also read:

Desperate pleas for remdesivir, oxygen fill social media as Covid-19 crisis intensifies