Thursday, December 8

Fresh batches of oxygen cylinders arrive in Kolkata, bring whiff of hope in midst of crisis

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Fresh lots of oxygen cylinders — which are currently hard to find in Kolkata — have started to arrive in the city in small batches, sparking hope of a possible solution to the medical oxygen crisis in the midst of the pandemic’s second wave.

On Sunday evening, a batch of 15 cylinders reached the city on an Air Force special mission flight from Bhubaneswar. This supplements another batch of 75 cylinders that reached the city last Friday — on a similar flight, from Ranchi — along with a stock of oxygen concentrators.
According to a senior airport official, the consignments were loaded on to state health department trucks, from where they were taken to Swasthya Bhawan in Salt Lake.

The shortage in Bengal is not of the gas itself, but of proper cylinders to store it in for medical use, which TOI has highlighted in a series of articles in the last three weeks.
The crisis has been so acute that pharmacists and volunteers were calling up old customers and issuing pleas on social media, asking people to return empty cylinders that they may have stocked at home.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had also written to PM Narendra Modi, raising her concerns about oxygen availability, where she informed him that the oxygen requirement in Bengal had gone up to 470MT per day between last Thursday and Friday because of the rising caseload, and this was expected to increase to 550MT per day shortly.

“The consignment of cylinders (Friday’s) was the first to arrive in recent times after the cylinder crisis in the state. It arrived in an IAF plane and was delivered to the state health department. From the airport, they took the shipments to Swasthya Bhawan,” said a senior airport official.

TOI tried speaking to multiple health officials in the state on the exact status of the oxygen cylinders’ availability with the state and the arrival of future consignments, but there was no formal response.

A health department official said that the central family welfare stores in Bagbazar — the largest storehouse of Covid vaccines in the city — has been slated as the storage hub for oxygen cylinders as well, but the official was not aware of the exact number of cylinders in the pipeline that may arrive in the city in the next few days.

Along with the cylinders, fresh stocks of oxygen concentrators too have been brought to the city — a total of 1,029 boxes between April 30 and last Friday. On Sunday, 9,600 oxygen concentrators were transported from Beijing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Hong Kong to Kolkata and Delhi.

Meanwhile, a number of private medical gas equipment agencies in Kolkata said they had booked hundreds of fresh cylinders that are being imported from China in phases but added they were unlikely to get it directly and sell it to retailers like they used to.

“As the state government has notified against hoarding and stocking of cylinders, all new consignments can reach city wholesalers after a clearance from the state administration. There are no cylinder manufacturers in the country. The cylinders are imported from China and Hong Kong and are only assembled here by some private companies in Maharashtra and Gujarat, from where other wholesalers in different states procure them. At present, a number of private agencies have placed orders for new cylinders but they are unlikely to get fresh stocks by themselves any sooner,” said Swapan Panda, a medical oxygen wholesaler in Kolkata.

Source: Times of India

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