All India Institute of Medical Sciences Director Dr Randeep Guleria on Monday said medical oxygen needs to be used judiciously and hospitals must ensure there was no leakage of the gas, reported the Hindustan Times. Guleria’s comments came amid a dire shortage of the life-saving gas in several parts of the country and authorities have been found scrambling to get supplies even as Covid-19 patients lay dying outside hospitals.

“At present, there is an unnecessary panic created among people,” Guleria said while addressing a press briefing along with officials of the Union health ministry. “If people test positive for Covid-19 and are asymptomatic and their oxygen saturation is normal, they hospitalise themselves with a fear that they might need oxygen or a hospital bed in the future. Due to this, there is a huge rush outsides hospitals and genuine patients suffer as they are unable to get proper treatment. Such assumptions are wrong.”

Guleria urged Covid patients and their families not to misuse oxygen at this time. “There is no point in using oxygen if your saturation is at 94 or 95 and further take it to 98 or 99,” he added. “This is a misuse. We should ensure there is no misuse of the gas as it will be needed for some other person with saturation less than 90.”

India has seen a massive surge in Covid-19 cases in recent days, with hospitals in the national Capital and across the country turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds. Patients are struggling to get access to medicines and ventilators, and hospitals are taking to Twitter and going to court to desperately plead for more oxygen supplies.

On Monday, the country reported a record-breaking 3,52,991 new cases in a day, taking the total number of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 1,73,13,163. This is the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far, and the fifth consecutive day when the country has set such a grim global record.

For the first time, 2,812 deaths were registered. The toll is now 1,95,123.

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At the press briefing, health ministry Joint Secretary Luv Agarwal urged citizens to follow coronavirus protocols, adding that there was no need to panic. “Hospital admissions should be done only when needed,” he said.

Niti Aayog member Dr VK Paul said the time has come to wear masks even at home. “Please don’t go out unnecessarily, and even within the family wear a mask,” he said. “Do not invite people into your home.”

The health ministry officials said states and districts should follow the three main principles of containment, clinical management and community engagement.

For containment, the Centre urged everyone to limit unnecessary movement and follow Covid-appropriate behaviour at all times.

For clinical management, the government said home isolation cases must be monitored effectively. “States and districts have to plan a dashboard indicating availability of beds and ensure transparent allocation,” it said. The government said that states and districts must earmark additional healthcare infrastructure. It also suggested rational use of oxygen and appropriate prescription for drugs under investigational therapy like remdesivir, tocilizumab.

So far, a total of 14.19 crore of coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered, the government said. Among those above 45 years of age, 9.79 crore have received the first dose and 1.03 crore have been administered the second dose. More than 92.98 lakh healthcare workers have received the first jab, while 60.08 lakh have got the second dose. Among frontline workers, the first dose has been administered to 1.19 crore and second dose to 63.10 lakh.

Main challenge is transportation, says home ministry

The Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday claimed that India has enough stock of medical oxygen but the main challenge was its transportation.

“We have enough stock of oxygen,” said Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Piyush Goyal at the same press briefing. “The issue is transportation which we are trying to resolve by active involvement of all stake holders. There is absolutely no need to panic for oxygen as we are trying to resolve the issue of oxygen transportation from the producing states to high demand areas.”

Goyal said the turnaround time of oxygen-carrying tankers was reduced to 1-2 hours from 4-5 days with the help of the Indian Air Force transport aircraft that are ferrying empty tankers.

Over the last few days, the government has ramped up its efforts to get medical oxygen to hospitals using special “Oxygen Express” trains, Air Force planes and trucks to transport tankers as demand has outstripped supply across the country.

However, as reported based on government data available in the public domain, even if India uses its entire daily oxygen production for medical use, it still has a shortfall. The country is dipping into its reserves which could run out in a few weeks.

On Saturday, the Delhi High Court had warned that it would “hang” anyone who tried to obstruct the delivery of emergency oxygen supplies.

At least 20 coronavirus patients in Delhi died on Saturday after Jaipur Golden Hospital ran out of oxygen. A day earlier, 25 “sickest” coronavirus patients died overnight at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi amid a last-minute scramble for oxygen. The situation is worsening by the day with hospitals taking to social media to plead with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop admissions of new patients.