Four-fold rise in demand for medical oxygen in Jalandhar district

As Covid spread accelerates, demand goes up to 2,500-3,000 cylinders a day from 600-700 cylinders earlier

Four-fold rise in demand for medical oxygen in Jalandhar district

Owners of Shakti Cryogenics check the stock of cylinders at their plant in Jalandhar. Photo: Sarabjit Singh

Avneet Kaur

Jalandhar, September 18

The continuous increase in the number of Covid cases in the district has led to a spike in demand for medical oxygen. Reportedly, against the supply of 600 to 700 oxygen cylinders a day earlier, companies engaged in oxygen production are now supplying around 2,500 to 3,000 cylinders a day.

Akshat Bhandari, one of the proprietors of Shakti Cryogenics

When we send an oxygen cylinder to hospitals, we ensure its proper sanitisation. However, when hospitals send back empty cylinders, they do not sanitise it. As these are mostly used in Covid wards, these pose a risk to the health of workers handling these. So, our workers, wearing masks and PPE kits, first sanitise the cylinders and then start the process of refilling these.

At the Civil Hospital alone, the demand has gone up to 400 cylinders a day, while before Covid, it hovered around 15 to 20 cylinders a day. Talking to The Tribune, Rajan Gupta and Akshat Bhandari, the proprietors of Shakti Cryogenics, a firm deals in manufacturing and supply of oxygen in Jalandhar and neighbouring districts, said as oxygen was crucial in saving lives of patients who develop acute respiratory distress because of the virus, the demand for medical oxygen had increased more than four times in the past one month.

“From March to July, the demand (for oxygen) remained normal (700 to 800 cylinders a day) as it was before Covid. Since the second week of August, it has shot up to 2,500 to 3,000 cylinders a day, with only 400 cylinders being delivered to the Civil Hospital,” they said.

The proprietors said there were operating two of the three oxygen manufacturing plants in the district, managing around 70 to 80 per cent of the oxygen supply and besides delivering cylinders to various private hospitals in the district, they were also ensuring supply to the Civil Hospital.

When asked about the quantity of oxygen in each cylinder, Rajan Gupta said: “A standard-sized oxygen cylinder contains seven cubic metres (47 litres) of oxygen.” He said their plant had the capacity to produce around 1,200 cylinders a day, but they were producing over 1,200 cylinders a day with additional labour and overtime. “Before Covid, our plant would function for 16 to 17 hours a day, but now, we are working round the clock. We have also suspended export and supply of oxygen to neighbouring states and to other industries. Our focus is to meet the demands of the administration and private hospitals in the district,” Gupta said.

When asked if the demand for oxygen cylinders for homes, too, had witnessed an increase, the proprietors said they had been providing cylinders for homes only to those who furnished a document signed by a doctor. “But, the demand for home use is low at present,” they said.

No hike in prices, though input cost has increased

When questioned if prices of oxygen cylinders had gone up owing to the increase in demand, the duo said the administration had put a price cap, so they were selling the product at the price that prevailed before the pandemic.

They claimed that though prices had remained the same as before Covid, the input cost had risen. “We are paying more to overtime workers. The expenses on sanitisation and arranging masks and safety kits for workers are an additional burden for us,” they said.

No shortage of oxygen in district, say officials

Talking to The Tribune, Dr Navjot Dahiya, the president of the Indian Medical Association, Punjab, said: “Suppliers (of oxygen cylinders) are successfully meeting the demand from both the administration as well as private hospitals in the district.” He said against the consumption of 40 to 45 cylinders a day on normal days at private hospitals in the district (as per bed capacity), the usage now has gone up to 110 to 130 cylinders a day. “Oxygen is essential to treatment for critical Covid-19 patients. At times, over 100 cylinders get consumed in a day by just 10 to 15 such patients. However, the demand from non-Covid patients has decreased as not many are visiting hospitals amid the pandemic,” he said.

Rajiv Kumar, Inspector, Food Civil Supplies, Jalandhar, who has been deployed at Shakti Cryogenics to ensure smooth supply of cylinders to hospitals, said: “There is no shortage of oxygen in the district and the administration has also stored around 2,000 cylinders of liquid oxygen for an emergency situation,” he said.

Unsung frontline warriors

The suppliers and hundreds of other workers engaged in refilling and distribution of oxygen cylinders have turned out to be unsung frontline warriors in the fight against the Covid pandemic. They have been carrying out tasks of delivering the oxygen cylinders to the hospitals and then offloading empty cylinders coming from hospitals on a daily basis.

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