'Only 1 state reported suspected oxygen-related death'

'After Centre sought data, only one state has so far reported suspected death due to oxygen shortage'

The Centre recently had sought data from states and Union Territories on deaths in connection with oxygen shortage during the second wave of Covid-19

Family members of Covid-19 patients wait outside an oxygen-filling centre to refill their empty cylinders in New Delhi. Credit: PTI Photo

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday said no States, barring just one, reported any Covid-19 deaths due to oxygen shortage contradicting the ground realities three months ago when hospitals were in dire need of oxygen and patients died due to non availability of the life saving gas.

"When the States were asked, only one State reported suspected Covid-19 deaths due to oxygen shortage. Other States did not report any such deaths,” Lav Agarwal, a joint secretary in the ministry said.

The official reiterated what the ministry had informed the Parliament last month, triggering sharp criticism from political parties and health experts. Nearly 20 days after the Parliament reply, the ministry stuck to its position seemingly in the absence of information from the States.

Also read: Not received any letter from Centre seeking info on deaths due to oxygen scarcity: Manish Sisodia

Sources said 13 States and Union Territories - Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim, Tripura, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab - had responded to the Centre's query. Only Punjab had reported four "suspected" deaths due to oxygen shortage.

However, the ground realities of April and May, when the ferocious second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was surging through the nation, were different. Every big city and a large number of hospitals, including the big ones, reported deaths of Covid-19 patients due to oxygen deficiency, compelling the Supreme Court to take note and force the government to improve the oxygen supply.

On the Covid-19 situation, Agarwal said 37 districts have been reporting an increasing trend in daily new cases since the last two weeks. Five of such districts are in Karnataka - Kodagu, Uttara Kannada, Chamarajanagara, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Kerala has 11 such districts, followed by Tamil Nadu (7) and Himachal Pradesh (6).

Also worryingly, India’s Covid reproduction number, which signals an epidemic’s ability to spread, crossed the threshold value of one. According to an official estimate, it stays above one in eight states including the large and populous Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The highest R-value of 1.3 has been recorded in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab.

“The second dose of the vaccine is a must for full protection. Those having comorbidities should get the two doses fast,” said V K Paul, NITI Ayog member and the government’s principal advisor on Covid-19.