Opinion

The Catastrophe Within the Pandemic – Is India’s Oxygen Crisis a Self-Made Disaster?

India sold twice as much oxygen to the world during the first ten months of fiscal 2020-21 as compared to entire financial year before it. Has over export resulted in an oxygen crisis in India?

On 30th of January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 virus a Pandemic. India saw the peak of the first wave of the virus without damage as widespread as in the USA, Brazil, and France. The Prime Minister of India came out to say that India has saved the world by efficiently managing the pandemic. Slowly and steadily the country was getting back to the old normal and people and businesses were returning to the markets. However, there was a lesson we should have learnt from the rest of the world, especially the US. The virus comes back with a second wave when people start getting back to normal and that is when it breaks the back of the healthcare system of a country and around the second wave of February 2021, the cases started resurfacing in India by the count of thousands, initially. This wave has reached to 3.52 Lakh cases in the last 24 hours, a dreadful statistical figure which only predicted to get worse and worse.

Amidst the second wave, along with shortage of hospital beds and ventilators for a country of 1.3 billion people, India is also seeing a catastrophic shortage of oxygen. This shortage of oxygen has already led to the death of hundreds (reported) in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. In the surge in infections in the second wave of Covid that has seen more cases of breathlessness and an increased demand for oxygen, it has emerged from government data that exports of oxygen from India doubled in the current financial year compared to the previous. The government says only industrial-grade oxygen was exported. With many states flagging an oxygen shortage, it is industrial oxygen that is now being diverted to hospitals.

Between April 2020 and January 2021, India exported over 9,000 metric tonnes of oxygen, according to a Ministry of Commerce report. In the financial year 2020, only 4,500 metric tonnes of oxygen were exported. From January 2020, when India was exporting 352 metric tonnes of oxygen, the exports increased by a staggering 734 per cent in January 2021. The country exported 2,193 metric tonnes of oxygen in December – a 308 per cent increase compared to 538 metric tonnes in December 2019.

India sold twice as much oxygen to the world during the first ten months of fiscal 2020-21 as compared to entire financial year before it, shows data from Department of Commerce. This happened despite the fact that India was one of the three worst-affected nations from the coronavirus pandemic for a substantial portion of this period.

At the same time, a staggering 66 million vaccine doses of COVID-19 vaccines were exported from India, while the country’s entire vaccine programme over three months from mid-January to mid-April has given 130 million doses. This means that at the very least, India exported what could have been used for a month of vaccinations domestically. What this has also meant is that, as the government has declared vaccines for all over 18 years to be opened up from May 1, that India has gone from being a vaccine exporter, to needing vaccine imports, including the Russian Sputnik vaccine, U.S. developed Johnson and Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer and others.

Industrial Oxygen – Medical Oxygen

“There is practically no difference between industrial and medical oxygen,” said Ravi K. Bansal, chief executive of the Airsep Corporation of Buffalo, which produces both kinds. The two come from the same source and are produced the same way, he said, but to sell oxygen as medical gas, as with any prescription drug, regulations must be complied with to ensure that it is being properly dispensed and that it is traceable, with a lot number in the event of a recall.

“It needs to be tracked, and sometimes tested if it is repackaged, as it moves along the distribution channel,” Dr. Bansal said.

Industrial oxygen contains no harmful contaminants, he said, and is separated from air by a process in which air, collected in its gaseous form, is liquefied at very cold temperatures. The different constituent gases boil off at different temperatures, making it possible to capture pure oxygen.

The Digpu News Bottomline

The country is reeling under the second wave of the pandemic with experts predicting the daily cases to go up to 4-5 Lakh a day at the peak. The situation is grim. But is there really nothing that the government could have done in the past one year?

India had a good chance of being better prepared, given the time gap between the first wave and the second wave but why does the country find itself surrounded by absolute mayhem and death? Here are a few questions that the ordinary citizen should ask;

  • Why was foreign diplomacy put over and above the life of Indian citizens, in terms of vaccine export?
  • Why was Oxygen exported at such a flabbergasting scale?
  • Were the country’s policy framers too short-sighted to see a second wave?
  • And the most difficult question is, PM CARES?
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Farzan Bashir

Farzan Bashir is a postgraduate in Law from Kashmir. Though he is qualified for the legal field, it is writing where he finds solace. Currently, you can find him scribbling for Digpu News Network.
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