There is a surge in the demand for medical oxygen cylinders as the country is faced with an onslaught of Covid-19 cases, which have risen by 10 lakh in 11 days. Compared to 750 tonnes of medical oxygen produced every day in March, the figure today has nearly quadrupled to 2,700 tonnes. With positive patients exhibiting no-to-mild symptoms being allowed to follow treatment and quarantine protocols at home, there is a scramble to stock up homes with medical supplies — paracetamol, vitamin supplements, thermometers, oximeters, and now, oxygen cylinders. The need to be prepared in advance in the unfortunate event of contracting the disease is fuelled by horror stories of patients having to shop for hospital beds and running from one facility to another as rates of private clinics and hospitals touch the roof.
Sadly, sensing an opportunity in this adversity, unscrupulous dealers have jacked up the prices and are selling these essential commodities on the black market, leading to fear of shortage of supplies. After stories of medical oxygen scarcity in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra trickled in, panic-buying of oxygen cylinders has started in Punjab, too. With a large chunk of the population suffering from comorbidities such as hypertension and diabetes, the dread of the need for oxygen therapy is palpable. The data bears out the alarm: since August, the Covid situation in Punjab has deteriorated, with the state reporting over 45,000 cases and more than 1,400 deaths. While the national case fatality rate (CFR) has declined to 1.7 per cent, Punjab has bucked the trend and is witnessing a high CFR of nearly 3 per cent.
The Capt Amarinder Singh government must allay the fears of the people and assure them of adequate quantities of medical commodities vital to fight the Covid battle. There are reports that the nodal officers appointed to deal with the pandemic have tied up with medical oxygen manufacturers to keep up the supply and ensure a cap on the prices. The officers also have the onerous task of strengthening citizens’ faith in the government facilities and abilities. It is vital to check the undue panic and resultant hoarding.
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