The grim milestone has been crossed and nobody knows when the consistent surge in new Covid cases will drop in India. On Wednesday, India reported 3,14,835 new Covid cases, surpassing the previous one-day jump of 297,430 cases recorded by USA in January this year. The death toll touched 1,85,657 as 2,104 Indians died of Covid on Wednesday.
It took only 17 days for the daily Covid count to jump from 1 lakh on April 4 to thrice that number now. The pandemic is spreading so fast that in many families, most of the members have been tested positive. There is a 15 per cent positivity rate in 146 districts spread across India. Already, scientists have sounded alarm over triple-mutant Bengal strain of the virus, though proper studies are yet to be carried out.
Indian Air Force planes are being used to airlift medical oxygen containers, cylinders, ventilators, medicines and health care workers. In order to staff a huge temporary Covid hospital being set up by DRDO in Delhi IAF planes are being used to transport nursing staff from Kochi, Vishakhapatnam, Bengaluru and Mumbai to Delhi. The 250-bed DRDO hospital’s capacity is being increased to 500. DRDO has also started a 500-bed Covid Centre at the ESIC hospital in Patna, while work on 450-bed hospital in Lucknow and 750-bed hospital in Lucknow is in progress. A 900-bed DRDO hospital is coming up in Ahmedabad.
One more good news: Indian Council of Medical Research on Wednesday said that Covaxin, manufactured indigenously by Bharat Biotech, has been found effective against the double-mutant strain, as well as other variants circulating in India. Covaxin has shown an overall interim clinical efficacy of 78 per cent and 100 per cent efficacy against serious Covid disease, ICMR said.
On Wednesday, the nation was shocked when 24 Covid victims at the Nashik hospital died following sudden disruption of oxygen supply. There were 157 patients in the 150-bed Dr Zakir Hussain Hospital, run by Nashik Municipal Corporation, when this mishap occurred. Among those who died included ten women in the age group 33 years to 74 years. It was claimed that there was some malfunction in the main oxygen storage of the hospital, but India TV reporter Rajesh Kumar, during investigation, found that there was not a single technical team present, when the oxygen tanker came to the hospital. The leak was noticed by a pharmacist, there was no technical staff present to plug the leak, and finally it all led to chaos and death.
The visuals from the hospital were scary. All these deaths were caused due to gross negligence. These patients were recovering, they did not die of Coronavirus, they died because of deficiencies in our system. Though the local police filed an FIR late in the evening against ‘unknown persons’, but facts prove otherwise. The visuals of doctors and nurses trying their best to give CPR to the Covid patients who were breathless due to lack of oxygen, were unnerving. Even as relatives screamed and wailed, the patients died, one by one, due to sheer negligence. They would have been alive today had not some people avoided negligence.
How did the leak occur? When the tanker was refilling oxygen into the hospital’s main tank, it was noticed that the socket was broken and concentrate oxygen gas began to leak fast. There was no technical team present. Not a single staff from the company that manages the hospital’s oxygen tank was present. There was chaos as concentrate oxygen gas spread, and the main oxygen supply at the hospital was terminated. All the patients who were on oxygen, began to choke, due to lack of oxygen, and within minutes, their lives fell like nine pins. The Fire Service was called in, and it took nearly an hour to control the situation. By that time, 24 lives had been lost.
One can say, mishaps can happen anywhere, any time. But at a time of grave national crisis, when every metric tonne of medical oxygen can save lives of patients, one should be careful at all levels. That is why, in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, I said, these were not deaths, these were ‘murders’.
The most disgusting aspect was that the state health minister was saying on camera that the hospital belonged to the city municipal corporation, that comes under urban development ministry, and the Guardian Minister for Nashik was somebody else. What should we expect from such people? Out of 7,500 metric tonne medical oxygen being produced in India presently, 6,600 MT medical oxygen are being supplied continuously to all hospitals. Orders have gone out to set up new oxygen plants. At this critical time, how can one tolerate a mishap where oxygen starts leaking due to a broken socket, and oxygen supply to patients is abruptly cut short?
If we have to win the war against Corona, all state governments must cooperate with the Centre. Take the example of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who had complained of shortage of oxygen on Tuesday. The Centre promptly responded, and Kejriwal thanked the Centre for this quick response. There is no shortage of oxygen in India. We are in a surplus situation, but oxygen has to be supplied to other industries too, apart from hospitals. These industries also include the pharma sector. The problem relates to transportation. We are now using tankers and trains to transport medical oxygen, and in critical cases, we use planes and choppers.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jamnagar plant has already started free supply of 700 metric tonnes of medical grade oxygen. The Reliance plant used to produce only 100 MT medical oxygen, but in view of huge demand, the production has been increased seven times. This medical oxygen is being used to treat 70,000 Covid patients in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Tata group has ordered import of 24 containers to transport liquid oxygen. All these efforts will surely give us positive results soon. My only request is, state governments should not stop oxygen tankers from going to other states.
Similarly, on the vaccination front. Let us stop indulging in politics on this vital issue. Every Indian above the age of 18 years needs to be vaccinated. The ICMR announcement about the efficacy of Covaxin is a welcome step. The Centre has also allowed Biological-E company in India to manufacture Covid vaccines. This company can manufacture 7 crore doses in a month. It is about to complete phase 1 and phase 2 trials and is expected to launch its vaccine by August. The company plans to manufacture 1 billion doses by end of 2022. This will be India’s fourth Covid vaccine, after Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V.
The battles are still being fought on the frontlines. Doctors, nurses, health workers are fighting against time to save the lives of millions of Indians in hospitals and Covid centres. Supplies of oxygen, ventilators, Remdesivir and other critical medicines are being revamped. The army, the DRDO, the Indian Air Force, are also pitching in with their best efforts. The day will surely dawn when the number of fresh Covid cases will drop from the present 3-lakh figure to two-digits. All of us can then breathe freely once the monster is decimated.
Aaj Ki Baat: Monday to Friday, 9 PM