Only 4 suspected deaths due to oxygen shortage in India during second wave, Health Minister tells Lok Sabha
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya was responding to questions by Congress MPs Adoor Prakash and Balubhau Dhanorkar on deaths of Covid patients due to oxygen shortage in hospitals across India
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Friday informed the Lok Sabha that there had been only four suspected deaths due to lack of oxygen in the country during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Punjab had reported that these deaths occurred due to a shortage of oxygen in one private hospital in Amritsar during the second wave.
Replying to a question during the 'Question Hour' in the Lower House, Mandaviya said that the Centre has written to 19 states thrice seeking the data of the deaths caused due to the shortage of oxygen but only Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh had reported.
The minister said that there had been a lot of politics on 'shortage of oxygen'.
He was responding to questions from Congress MPs Adoor Prakash and Balubhau Dhanorkar. They had sought information regarding deaths of Covid patients due to oxygen shortage in various hospitals across the country, government guidelines for recording oxygen shortage deaths, and they wanted to know if measures were taken to ensure that states and UTs have sufficient supply of medical oxygen.
Responding to the questions, Mandaviya said there was an average requirement of 1400 MT of medical oxygen in the country but during the second wave of coronavirus, the demand surged to 9000 MT, which was an ‘extraordinary situation’.
The minister claimed that the government took all possible measures to supply oxygen to every nook and corner of the country. He added that big empty containers were brought from abroad by the Indian Air Force and filled oxygen containers with the Indian Navy ships were pressed into service to bring oxygen to the country. ‘We made an adequate supply to all hospitals,’ he contended.
Hospitals across the country in April and May ran out of oxygen during the deadly second wave - there were daily reports of people dying from a lack of oxygen. In Delhi alone, at least 12 patients died due to lack of oxygen at Batra Hospital.
In Karnataka, as many as 24 patients died in Chamrajanagar district on May 2 and 3 after acute oxygen shortage. A panel formed by the Karnataka high court concluded that in fact 36 patients, and not 24, had died due to oxygen deprivation.
In Andhra Pradesh, 45 Covid patients died from a shortage of oxygen in May, but the state government admitted to only 23 such deaths. On June 28, the state government admitted before the AP High Court that 23 people had died at the Ruia hospital, a government institution, in Tirupati, due to a delay in the arrival of oxygen cylinders.
In Haryana, the state government ordered a probe into at least 19 deaths that had occurred due to oxygen shortage between April 5 and May 1. Four deaths were reported from Virat Hospital in Rewari, four from Kathuria Hospital in Gurgaon, five from Soni Burn Hospital in Hisar and six in Gurgaon.
In Goa, at least 83 people died due to oxygen-related issues between May 11 and 15, with 26 deaths on May 11. On May 11, the Goa health minister Vishwajit Rane said: “Due to interrupted supply of oxygen, we feel that between 2 am and 6 am many people are dying in Goa Medical College and Hospital. On one day, the requirement was about 1,200 cylinders but 400 cylinders were received.”
Mandaviya stated in Parliament that the states should not refrain from providing proper data on Covid-19 deaths. "We have repeatedly appealed to the states to provide data, and 19 states responded that there was no death reported due to shortage of oxygen. States respond to their respective HCs that there are no deaths, but they questioned the Central government on the number of deaths in the country, he said.
"We have also asked the states to be prepared for further Covid-19 waves and assured that there is no oxygen shortage this time, all oxygen plants are operating at full capacity," Mandaviya said.
The minister claimed in the House that the Centre has allocated additional funds to each district hospital to prepare themselves for the next wave of this pandemic. However, details of this fund were not made available.
India's government has previously come under criticism for major gaps in its Covid data - experts say the case counts and deaths are both severely under-reported.
The government had also stated that it did not have information on the migrants who had walked home due to the sudden lockdown imposed by the Centre in 2020 for which it only gave four hours’ notice.