Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office claimed that Uddhav Thackeray had contacted the Prime Minister’s Office about the acute shortage of medical oxygen and antiviral drug remdesivir, but was told that Modi was campaigning in West Bengal, reported Fress Press Journal and India Today on Saturday. The fifth phase of voting is underway for the West Bengal Assembly elections.

There has been no response from Modi regarding the allegations, but Union minister Piyush Goyal has rejected the Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office’s statement.

Around 280 metric tonnes of oxygen are required in Mumbai alone, as the demand has been rising with the increase in Covid-19 infections, according to India Today.

The developments came a day after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held a review meeting on the Covid-19 situation in Mumbai. Thackeray had asked officials to ensure that the state’s residents received their Covid-19 test reports quickly, reported PTI. He had also reviewed the medical oxygen supply chain along with bed and medicine management.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Cabinet minister Nawab Malik alleged that the Centre has asked 16 export companies not to supply remdesivir to the state. “These companies were warned, if they did, their licence will be cancelled,” he tweeted. “This is a dangerous precedent and under these circumstances, [the] Maharashtra government will have no choice but to seize the stock of Remdesivir from these exporters and supply it to the needy.”

‘Will ensure uninterrupted supply of oxygen’: Union health minister

Hours after the allegations came out, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said he spoke to Thackeray and assured him of “adequate and uninterrupted” supply of medical oxygen, along with all possible support with respect to healthcare infrastructure, medicines and therapeutics.

“Additional 1,121 ventilators are also being rushed to them given the surge in cases,” Vardhan wrote on Twitter.

The health minister added that he also held discussions with Thackeray’s office to discuss future strategies for containment, surveillance and treatment of Covid-19 cases in the state. He said he reiterated the need to focus on the five pillars of “test, track, treat, Covid appropriate behaviour and vaccination”.

Union minister Piyush Goyal, meanwhile, called the statement from Thackeray’s office “gimmicks on oxygen”. “Government of India, with all stakeholders, is ensuring maximum oxygen production in India,” he tweeted. “We are currently producing 110% of oxygen generating capacity and diverting all available oxygen from industrial use to medical use. Maharashtra has so far received the highest quantity of oxygen in India.”

Goyal claimed that the Centre was in touch with state governments daily to “help them in best possible manner.”

He also noted that the prime minister on Friday said that the Centre and states should work together during the crisis. “With this background, shocked and saddened to see petty politics being played by Uddhav Thackeray,” Goyal said. “He needs to stop his daily dose of shameless politics and take responsibility.”

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

‘Shocking’: Opposition parties react

The Congress and Trinamool Congress have criticised Modi for allegedly campaigning through the Maharashtra chief minister’s request for help.

“SHOCKING: Maharashtra CM reaches out to PM requesting immediate assistance on acute oxygen shortage,” the Congress tweeted. “He is told by PMO that Modiji is busy in Bengal. To Star Campaigner Modi ji, your vote is more important than your life.”

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien also called it a “shocker”. “Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray called Modi requesting for urgent supply of oxygen for his state,” he tweeted. “Was informed that PM busy campaigning in Bengal. Will respond on his return.”

On Wednesday, Thackeray had urged Modi to declare the coronavirus pandemic a natural calamity so that the State Disaster Response Fund can be used to provide benefits to those affected.

As of Saturday morning, Maharashtra has reported 6,39,642 active cases, 30,04,391 recoveries and 59,551 fatalities, according to the Union health ministry data.

With the second wave of the coronavirus raging through the country, several patients and their acquaintances have taken to social media to seek assistance to find access to oxygen supplies, remedesivir and hospital beds. Remdesivir, which has been approved for emergency use in South Korea, Japan and the United States, is being prescribed by some doctors in India too for Covid-19 patients with severe complications.

On April 11, the government banned the export of remdesivir. The Centre has also promised to ramp up the production and reduce remdesivir prices after states such as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat complained about the shortage.