New Delhi: Seeking to address the shortage of medical oxygen as active COVID-19 cases surpassed the 18-lakh mark, the Centre on Sunday banned the supply of the gas for industrial purposes except in nine specified areas and expedited the installation of 162 PSA plants in health facilities across the country, while the Railways announced special trains to transport the life-saver.
Several industry majors pitched in by diverting oxygen supply to hospitals as a record single-day rise of 2,61,500 coronavirus infections took India's total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,47,88,109 and authorities in the worst-hit states admitted they were running short of oxygen, beds, ventilators and medicines.
Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said all possible support is being extended to states to double production of Remdesivir drug, ensure uninterrupted supply of oxygen and COVID-19 vaccines, besides enhancing healthcare infrastructure.
The setting up of 162 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) oxygen plants in public health facilities is being expedited and a 24X7 cell is coordinating with the states, he said.
"These will augment medical oxygen capacity by 154.19 MT," the health ministry tweeted.
The PSA plants manufacture oxygen and help hospitals become self-sufficient in their requirement for medical oxygen, while also reducing the burden on the national grid for its supply of medical oxygen.
Earlier, the ministry had decided to float a tender for the import of 50,000 MT of medical oxygen.
In a communication to all states, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the central government-constituted Empowered Group-II has recommended prohibiting the supply of oxygen for industrial purposes by manufacturers and suppliers from April 22 till further orders, with exceptions of nine specified industries.
He cited the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and resultant rapid demand for medical oxygen, particularly in high-burden states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
The Railways said it will run 'Oxygen Express' trains over the next few days to transport liquid medical oxygen and oxygen cylinders across the country.
The positivity rate has doubled in the last 12 days to 16.69 per cent and 10 states -- Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan -- reported 78.56 per cent of the new infections, the health ministry said.
Maharashtra and Delhi, which are among the worst hit, have already sounded the Centre on the shortage of beds, oxygen, medicines and COVID vaccine.
(With inputs from PTI)