Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday highlighted the acute oxygen crisis in hospitals in the Capital during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reported PTI.
Modi held a virtual meeting with the chief ministers of 10 states. The meeting was attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, NITI Aayog health member VK Paul, union ministers Piyush Goyal and Harsh Vardhan. Among the chief ministers who attended the conference were Kejriwal, Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, his Karnataka counterpart BS Yediyurappa and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan.
“Please sir, we need your guidance,” Kejriwal told Modi as the meeting went live on TV, according to NDTV. “There’s a huge shortage of oxygen in Delhi. Will people of Delhi not get oxygen if there is no oxygen-producing plant here? Please suggest whom should I speak to in central government when an oxygen tanker destined for Delhi is stopped in another state.”
On Friday morning, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi said 25 “sickest” coronavirus patients have died at the facility. Over the last few days, several hospitals in Delhi have said that they were in crisis as they were running out of oxygen. The demand for oxygen is likely to rise since coronavirus cases are growing exponentially in the country due to the second wave of the pandemic.
The country’s healthcare system has collapsed under the strain of the surge, and several states are experiencing crippling shortages of oxygen and other critical equipment. As per an analysis by Scroll.in, India’s daily requirement of medical oxygen is currently more than double the amount that has been exempted from industrial use – 4,600 metric tonnes. And the country may run out of stocks in a few weeks even if all industrial oxygen is diverted to medical use.
Kejriwal warned that a “big tragedy” was awaiting. “People in major pain due to oxygen shortage,” he pointed out. “We fear a big tragedy may happen due to oxygen shortage and we will never be able to forgive ourselves. I request you with folded hands to direct all CMs to ensure smooth movement of oxygen tankers coming to Delhi.”
The Delhi chief minister asked Modi to facilitate the airlifting of oxygen from West Bengal and Odisha. “PM Sir, please, do make a phone call to the chief minister of the state where maximum trucks are being stopped so oxygen can reach Delhi,” he said.
Kejriwal expresses regret for televised appeal to Modi
Hours later, Kejriwal’s office expressed regret for a live telecast of his address to the prime minister, ANI reported. The chief minister’s office said that there was no instruction, written or verbal, from the Centre that the said interaction could not be shared live.
“There have been multiple occasions of similar interactions where matters of public importance which had no confidential information were shared live,” his office added. “However, if any inconvenience was caused we highly regret that.”
Modi reportedly told Kejriwal that showing a live telecast of his meeting was strictly against tradition and protocol, according to NDTV. “This is not appropriate, we should always maintain restraint,” the prime minister chided the chief minister. After this, Kejriwal apologised and said he will be careful in future.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has accused Kejriwal of using the meeting to “play politics” and “spread lies”.
Delhi on Friday reported more than 26,000 new cases and over 300 deaths.
Modi’s meeting with the chief ministers came on a day India reported a record-breaking 3,32,730 new cases, taking the total number of infections to 1,62,63,695 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. This is also the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far. India first hit the grim milestone of more than 3 lakh cases on Thursday, when it logged 3.14 lakh infections in a day. For the first time, 2,263 deaths were recorded. The toll rose to 1,86,920.
In Friday’s meeting, Kejriwal also called for a national policy to tackle the crisis and suggested that the Centre should take over all oxygen plants through the Army. “We need a national plan to deal with the crisis,” he said. “Centre should take over all oxygen plants through the Army and every tanker coming out of the oxygen plant should be accompanied by an Army escort vehicle.”
The prime minister is also scheduled to hold a meeting with oxygen manufacturers.On Thursday, the Delhi High Court had directed the Centre to ensure that oxygen supplies and its transportation remained undisrupted. It asked the government to provide adequate security to the transporting vehicles and create special corridors.
Hours before that, the Centre had ordered that no restrictions should be imposed on the movement of medical oxygen between states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also asked state governments to “come down heavily” on those who are hoarding oxygen used to treat coronavirus patients as several states faced shortages.
On vaccine policy
Kejriwal also objected to the different rates being charged from state governments and the Centre for the vaccine. He said “one nation, one rate” policy should be followed.
Everyone above 18 years of age can get vaccinated from May 1 in the Indian government’s third phase of inoculation. Only those over 45 and frontline workers were being vaccinated against the disease so far. All Indian adults can register to get their vaccine on the government’s Co-WIN portal or the Aarogya Setu app from April 28.
Under the third phase of the inoculation drive, vaccine manufacturers can sell half their vaccines to state governments and the private hospitals. The Centre said it will provide vaccines free of cost for only the first 30 crore vulnerable persons. After that, vaccines will not be subsidised as they are being at present.
The Centre has also liberalised and deregulated vaccine prices, which means the cost of getting inoculated will vary in each state. Unless the states subsidise the shots, the doses are also likely to get very expensive, a decision that has drawn criticism from some experts and opposition parties, including the Congress.
The Centre has asked manufacturers to declare prices for 50% supply that would be available to state governments and in the open market before May 1. The Serum Institute of India’s coronavirus vaccine Covishield will be sold at Rs 400 a shot to state governments and Rs 600 to private hospitals. The Pune-based company will sell Covishield doses to Centre at Rs 400 per dose once the current purchase order ends. Earlier, the Centre used to get it at Rs 150 each, making it the cheapest available option if one gets a shot from a government hospital.