Divert Oxygen From Industrial Use to Covid19 Patients, Govt Tells States
The Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla has asked all chief secretaries of state to divert all industrial oxygen supplies for medical purposes only starting April 22, citing the severe rise in Covid19 cases. The Ministry of Home Affairs called medical oxygen an essential public health commodity earlier this week, and reinforced that an uninterrupted supply is critical to managing the severe second Covid19 wave.
The only industries that can still use oxygen for non-medical efforts are pharmaceuticals, ampoules and vials, steel plants, food and water purification, industries that require uninterrupted furnaces, nuclear energy facilities, wastewater treatment plants, oxygen cylinder manufacturers, and petroleum refineries. Other industries, that rely on major companies for oxygen supply, will have to either import or manufacture their own oxygen for specific requirements, official guidelines say. As of now, only a few major companies produce oxygen on a mass commercial level — Linde India, Goyal MG Gases Pvt Ltd, and National Oxygen Limited.
This drastic measure is necessary due to the increase in the amount of Covid19 cases coinciding with several reported shortages of medical oxygen across India. India’s active Covid19 cases are close to 15 lakh and are rising steadily; several states like Maharashtra are reporting a shortage of oxygen supply as their production capacity is fully exhausted. India is expected to import around 50,000 metric tonnes of oxygen to meet the country’s rising demand. The country’s current oxygen production ability is more than 7,000 metric tonnes daily, with several manufacturers of industrial oxygen voluntarily stopping the production of other gases to solely focus on oxygen needs.
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Industrial oxygen is different from oxygen in the air: it exists at 99.5% purity and is prepared in liquid, and has to be stored and transported at a very specific temperature. The core problem behind the shortage lies in India’s inability to produce enough oxygen cylinders and trucks to transport it. Transportation also requires cylinders of several sizes — liquid oxygen is converted into gas for transportation and utilization, and this gas is contained in cylinders. India does not have the ability to transport these cylinders of oxygen everywhere, especially to remote, rural regions.
Potential solutions floated by policy-makers include using argon and nitrogen tankers to transport oxygen. Other solutions include using trains to transport oxygen cylinders, and hospitals setting up large storage tanks to keep oxygen for at least 10 days in order to avoid the last-minute delay to acquire cylinders. In drastic situations, airlifting oxygen has also been viewed as an option.
As of now, the Centre is focused on ensuring that states most affected by Covid19 receive their fair share of oxygen.