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90 per cent supply of oxygen will be sent to hospitals in Bihar treating COVID-19 patients. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Patna: Amid an acute shortage of medical oxygen cylinders, the Bihar government has stopped oxygen supply to the industries and directed the oxygen plants to divert 90 per cent of the supply to the hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.

The government issued the order after a high-level meeting of senior officials from various departments chaired by industry department’s additional secretary Brijesh Mehrotra. Some 50 representatives of private hospitals and owners of oxygen refueling plants also attended the meet held late Thursday evening.

The demand for liquid oxygen has skyrocketed in the past few days as more and more patients require oxygen support following an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases which are breaking all records with each day but the majority of the city hospitals are facing an acute crisis of oxygen.

“Keeping in view the prevailing situation, it was decided to suspend oxygen supply to factories for industrial use for the time being and to make their maximum supply to the hospitals for medical purposes. Our first priority right now is to save the lives of the patients at all costs,” said an official.

Oxygen supply

In the light of the decision taken at the meeting, the Patna district magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh has now issued orders to divert 90 per cent of oxygen for use by hospitals. He has also deputed magistrates at each of the three oxygen manufacturing plants in Patna for monitoring the oxygen supply.

The state government has also sent five tankers to neighbouring Jharkhand to bring liquid oxygen. Apart from this, the government has requested the Centre to make supply of oxygen. “We are making all efforts to ensure oxygen supply to the hospitals,” Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey said.

There are a total of 47 private hospitals in Patna which are currently engaged in treating the COVID-19 patients after being instructed by the state government. A total of 985 COVID-19 patients are admitted to these hospitals. According to an official estimate, there hospitals require at least 5,000 oxygen cylinders per day but they are unable to get the required numbers.

Many private hospitals are now refusing to admit patients citing a crisis of oxygen, adding to the worry of the authorities. A leading hospital in Patna, Ford Hospital said they were compelled to discharge 30 patients since they required oxygen support “We requested the health department officials to ensure oxygen supply at the hospital but they didn’t respond,’ Ford Hospital director Dr Santosh Kumar told the local media on Friday.

Administrator of Medizone Hospital Pankaj Kumar Mehta said 90 per cent of hospitals in Patna are facing acute shortage of oxygen. “We have clubbed with three other hospitals to provide oxygen to the patients but the oxygen supply will run out as the demand is increasing fast,” Kumar said.

“There is no other option left before us now (except for stopping admission of new patients). We need at least 40 cylinders daily but we have only eight left now,” director of Jagdish Memorial Hospital Dr Alok told the local media. Another private health facility Hitech hospital too is not admitting new patients. “We require at least 100 cylinders daily but are being supplied just the half. How can we manage the patients?” asked hospital manager Abhay Pandey.

The Patna High Court has pulled up the state government over the pathetic health condition in the state and asked the government to provide necessary infrastructure, rather than presenting a “rosy picture” before it. The court made these stinging observations while taking a suo motu cognizance of a letter written by Shivani Kaushik, a law graduate.

Scarcity of beds

“The doors of the government hospitals are nearly shut for the common men as they are being denied admissions there. The hospitals are facing scarcity of beds and oxygen. The government should instantly make efforts to improve health infrastructure in the state,” a special division bench of Justice CS Singh and Justice MK Shah observed.

The health situation looks very alarming the way the coronavirus infection is rising across the state, the court observed, adding the “rosy picture” of the health situation being shown by the government is far from reality. The court also expressed concern over the way the government test centres were taking longer time in submitting the RT-PCR reports where the private test centres are proving them on time.

As per a report, some 85 staffs of the High Court, including many judges, have tested positive since April 5. Patna high court chief justice Sanjay Karol himself has tested positive.

COVID-19 situation has virtually spiraled out of control in the second wave. There are a number of top officials who have contracted the coronavirus. They included Arun Kumar Singh, State chief secretary, Chaitanya Prasad, home department’s additional chief secretary and S Sidharth, fiancé secretary.

Apart from them, the officials from five key departments, such as the Finance, revenue & land reforms, social welfare, tourism and Food & Consumer Protection have come in the grip of COVID-19.