The Centre on Sunday decided to prohibit supply of oxygen for industrial purposes, in order to divert the stock for medical use. The decision, which will come into effect from April 22, came amid a rise in demand of oxygen in the country as cases of coronavirus continue to rise.

“The surplus oxygen available as a result of this temporary restriction will facilitate its freeing up for use as medical oxygen for treatment of Covid-19 patients,” the Union health ministry said in a release.

In a letter to chief secretaries of all states, the Union home secretary said that the decision was taken to meet the demand of medical oxygen “particularly in high-burden States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan”.

With nearly 20 lakh people currently infected with coronavirus in India, oxygen is running out, despite many states already redirecting all industrial oxygen production to medical purposes. States such as Maharashtra and Delhi have complained about the shortage in oxygen supply.

The government said on Thursday it would import 50,000 metric tonnes of medical oxygen.

In a tragic incident on Sunday, at least six coronavirus patients died at a government hospital in Madhya Pradesh’s Shahdol district allegedly due to a shortage in oxygen supply.

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The government, however, added that nine industries – including pharmaceutical, nuclear energy facilities, food and water purification and oxygen cylinder manufacturers – have been exempted on the prohibition on industrial use of oxygen.

The Centre on Sunday also said that the Indian Railways will run special trains to supply oxygen to states and Union Territories that are facing an acute shortage. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the production of medical-grade oxygen in the country will be doubled.