Hyderabad: Facing a severe shortage of oxygen for critical COVID-19 patients, Telangana has taken the unusual step of securing the assistance of Indian Air Force planes to transport the much-needed life saving gas.

With almost all the hospitals, including the biggest government hospital – Gandhi Hospital- in Hyderabad expressing their inability to take care of critical cases, Telangana government rushed heavy lift aircraft of the Air Force from Begumpet airport to Odisha’s capital Bhubaneshwar on Friday to bring 14.5 metric tons of oxygen.

One aircraft was sent to Odisha for bringing the oxygen. The state’s health minister, E. Rajender, and state Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar with top defence officials were at Begumpet airport. “Telangana is the first state in the country to take the help of warplanes for the purpose in view of the severe shortage of oxygen”, the health minister said. “Otherwise it would have taken three days to bring the liquid medical oxygen,” he added.

Telangana is facing a shortage of 120 metric tons of oxygen. Against the daily need of 384 metric tons of gas, the state was getting between 260 to 270 metric tons only, officials said.

The supplies were expected to reach Hyderabad by Friday evening. In all, the state government has planned to bring in 8 tankers of liquid oxygen from different states. Given the size of the Air Force planes, one can accommodate up to three small tankers.

The procured supplies would also be made available to 63 corporate and private hospitals facing oxygen shortage.

Indian Air Force said in a press release that heavy lift aircraft like C-17 and IL-76 were deployed for the operation in different parts of the country. One similar operation was performed from Hindan Air Force Station.

In view of the increasing shortage of beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen supply, the state government has also asked corporate hospitals to increase the bed strength by one and a half times.

Health minister Rajender said that all the 619 ventilator beds at Gandhi hospital were occupied as all other hospitals were referring critical cases to it. “No ventilator beds are available now. Only oxygen beds are there,” he said.

Telangana has registered 5,567 COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths in a single day.

An “Oxygen Express” train with seven tankers laden with 100 tons of liquid medical oxygen left Visakhapatnam Steel Plant for Maharashtra. On the way to Mumbai the Express will detach two tankers at Nashik, one of the worst affected districts of Maharashtra.