Taking stock of the continuing Oxygen shortage in the state, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday warned of strict action against black marketing, hoarding or private profiteering of oxygen cylinders or smuggling out of Punjab, especially when oxygen allocation of Punjab was itself not being met.
Urging all good private hospitals to increase beds, he said these would be supplied adequate Oxygen by the government agencies and no punitive action will be taken in case of any mishap due to lack of Oxygen.
The Chief Minister was chairing a virtual Covid emergency review meeting of these 6 districts – Ludhiana, SAS Nagar (Mohali), Jalandhar, Bathinda, Patiala and Amritsar.
Even as Health Minister Balbir Sidhu expressed concern over people of Punjab not getting space due to patients coming from outside, the Chief Minister said he was not in favour of refusing hospital care to any patient from other states like Haryana and Delhi, despite the criticality of Oxygen supplies. “We must not refuse any patient who needs hospital care,” he said, adding that “we will never close our doors to any patient.” Stressing that “they (patients coming from other states) are our people, as India is one country,” he said “they are welcome to come and we will look after them as our own.” As per estimates, one-fourth of the beds in Punjab are at present occupied by patients from outside the state, the meeting was informed.
On the issue of Oxygen supplies, the Chief Minister further said he had spoken to the Union Home Minister for additional Oxygen allocation and will also ask the Centre for more tankers. He further said the state government had taken up with GoI the issue of allotment of tankers for transportation, to enable Punjab to avail its oxygen allocation from the Eastern region.
He said he had been speaking to the Government of India for ensuring adequate and regular of Oxygen supplies and hoped that the situation will improve. Currently the state government was working with extremely limited allocations, Captain Amarinder said in response to Medical Education Minister OP Soni’s plea for increasing Oxygen supplies, especially in districts like Amritsar, where it was becoming an everyday challenge to arrange for the same.
The Chief Minister directed the Industries and Health departments to work out a supply plan to ensure that all districts have enough oxygen and there is no loss of life. He directed the DCs to ensure that Oxygen cylinders are collected and refilled in time. Every bit of Oxygen has to be utilised for medical purposes, he said, adding that all district officers must keep a close watch on the situation in their districts and in case of any problem due to past contracts, requisite orders should be passed under the Disaster Management Act.
On the shortage of Oxygen cylinders, the Chief Minister said while the Health Department had begun procurement, only 1000 are likely to be supplied in May, necessitating some interim measures. He asked district officers to work aggressively on a mechanism of borrowing cylinders from industry wherever they are available.
Noting the efforts of the Industries Department to re-energise old Oxygen plants, the Chief Minister said he was also happy to note that the state is getting approximately 200 more oxygen concentrators shortly. “We have requested GOI to allot 3500 out of 1 lakh being imported,” he revealed, while calling for all-out efforts for optimal utilisation of Oxygen and regular Oxygen audits. Some small amounts of Remdisivir and Toci have now become available, he further said, expressing the hope that the Centre “will respond to our requests to enhance the allocation.”
Medical Education Secretary DK Tewari said while infrastructure and ICU beds were being increased, occupancy was still high and the main challenge was to maintain Oxygen supply line. He suggested stationing of one extra tanker each in all the three GMCs.
DGP Dinkar Gupta provided details of the steps being taken by Punjab Police to manage seamless movement of Oxygen tankers. Senior officers have been stationed at points of origin (Panipat, Roorkee, Baddi), as well as in the control room, he said, adding that police escort was being provided for the tankers. As many as 1200 FIRs have been registered in these six districts since April 23 and 1300 arrests have been made, with over Rs one crore collected in fines during this period, on account of various Covid related violations.