As other states grapple with oxygen shortage, here’s how Kerala averted the crisis

Thiruvananthapuram: Even as other states grapple with shortage of oxygen amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic, Kerala has been able to avert the crisis due to the preparatory measures that began a year ago.

The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and the state health department effectively implemented the directives of the central government to ensure oxygen availability. Steps have already been initiated to prevent hoarding and control inflation.

A total of 204 metric tonne oxygen is produced in the state daily. There are four manufacturing companies, and 11 air separation units (ASUs) that separate oxygen from the atmosphere for this. Even if the COVID cases surge, preparations are on to overcome the crisis. An ASU with a capacity of four metric tonne will be commissioned in Palakkad this month. Twenty-three oxygen filling stations have also been set up. There is also the mechanism to increase the manufacture of oxygen in a short span of time.

PESO and health dept join hands

PESO, a central regulatory body, is responsible for managing medical oxygen supply. The chief controller of explosives has deployed nodal officers in all states. Dr R Venugopal is in charge of the PESO in Kerala and Lakshadweep. The state government has also appointed a nodal officer from the health department to facilitate the supply of oxygen.

The health department will notify the PESO on the quantity of oxygen required for each district. The PESO will facilitate the supply by collecting data from the manufacturers and the distributors. The PESO has a central control room in Faridabad and a control room operates from the state as well.

Crisis foreseen: Year-long action

The PESO had called for a meeting of the oxygen filling plants and manufacturers on March 23, 2020. While pointing out that trouble was likely if there was a rampant spread of COVID-19, it demanded the daily figures on oxygen stock and distribution.

The companies will provide the oxygen figures before 9am. The PESO will maintain a chart on how much oxygen was manufactured, how much distributed and how much was utilised. The oxygen cylinders are filled at the 11 ASU plants. The plants that had been shut were made operational by the PESO. These worked round-the-clock. The plants in Thrissur, that were reeling from a financial crunch, were also made operational. All these plants are in the private sector. The PESO will give the licence. The PESO also helped if the machinery at the plants developed any problem. Permission was given to store oxygen even before licences were granted to hospitals.

Increased the number of cylinders

While anticipating a surge in COVID cases, the PESO decided to increase the oxygen cylinder supply. The cylinders, meant for industrial use, were converted to medical oxygen cylinders. The nitrogen cylinders were also converted to oxygen. There are enough cylinders in stock now.

Only 30 hospitals in the government-private sector have centralised oxygen plants. At others, oxygen is provided by placing a cylinder near the bed of the patient. One kilo litre tank was set up at 16 hospitals. Liquid oxygen can be provided through this.

Figures on manufacturing of oxygen in Kerala at a glance:

How much oxygen is manufactured in Kerala?

204 metric tonne per day

The current requirement

COVID care - 35 metric tonne

Non-COVID care - 45 metric tonne

Companies that manufacture oxygen

KMML - 6 metric tonne

BPCL - 0.322 metric tonne

Cochin Shipyard - 5.45 metric tonne

Inox - 149 metric tonne

ASU - 44 metric tonne

Total - 204 metric tonne

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