(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
The Indian Air Force (IAF) will on Sunday carry out the next round of sorties to transport oxygen to Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as the country is grappling with the unprecedented surge in cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) during the second wave of the pandemic, aggravated by the shortage of the gas needed to treat critically ill patients, a senior military official said on Saturday. The air force’s transport aircraft have already ferried large oxygen containers to filling stations in different parts of the country, including Panagarh in West Bengal to Jamnagar in Gujarat.
A C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft flew to Pune in Maharashtra and then to Gujarat’s Jamnagar carrying four oxygen container trucks, according to the senior military official aware of the developments. The aircraft was used to carry two empty containers from Rajasthan’s Jodhpur to Jamnagar and deployed from Indore in Madhya Pradesh to Jamnagar. The IAF aircraft also flew empty oxygen containers from Hindon airbase and Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal to Jharkhand’s capital city of Ranchi. An An-32 transport aircraft took Covid testing equipment from Jammu to Kargil and from Jammu to Kargil on Saturday. In the morning, a C-17 flew from the Hindon to Singapore’s Changi International Airport and returned to Panagarh with four cryogenic oxygen containers.
The Union home ministry on April 22 directed all states and Union territories to treat oxygen vehicles like ambulances and make provision for green corridors to ensure uninterrupted transport of medical oxygen across the country.
“The issue is not about hospitals, it is a shortage of beds for severely affected cases needing oxygen support. In fact, most positive cases do not need hospitalisation. There are many positive cases moving about freely and only when they get tested as positive their near and dear ones push them to hospitals to avoid spread at home. It is a case of palming off responsibility. Hospitals, therefore, are getting burdened with cases that otherwise can be managed at home. In some cases family members are not coming back to hospitals to take patients who have recovered,” the official mentioned above said.
The official also said that filling of oxygen from manufacturers in Haridwar, Panipat, Dehradun and other areas in north India is time-consuming because of traffic obstruction further complicated by blocks established on approaches to Delhi. “The IAF is airlifting empty oxygen trucks to Panagarh where these are refilled at Durgapur and then moved by rail to various destinations. Filled trucks cannot be airlifted because these trucks carry oxygen under pressurized conditions. IAF has also transported oxygen trucks from Singapore,” the official added.
The Centre is also looking at lifting oxygen tankers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) apart from Singapore. Defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Saturday the armed forces and the defence ministry “will leave no stone unturned in providing all possible assistance to the civilian administration”.