Centre tells states to keep oxygen ready as COVID cases near 2 lakh a day

Rajesh Bhushan urged the chief secretaries to direct their departments to ensure adequate buffer stocks of medical oxygen

New Delhi: As India reported a whopping 1,94,720 fresh Covid-19 cases and 442 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Centre on Wednesday said the emerging scenario calls for immediate measures by states/UTs to ensure optimal availability of medical oxygen at all health facilities.

In a letter, Union health ministry secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged the chief secretaries to direct their departments to ensure adequate buffer stocks of medical oxygen for at least 48 hours and reinvigorate oxygen control rooms.

The health secretary said the private health facilities providing oxygen therapy services may be assessed and the medical oxygen infrastructure capacities need to be explored. He advised that a possible strategy and mechanism to leverage the private sector in times of peak demand times should be explored.

With a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases, fuelled by the new Omicron variant, the country’s positivity rate has jumped 10 times in the past 12 days. The daily positivity rate has increased to 11.05 per cent and active cases have mounted to 9,55,319, the highest in 211 days. The Omicron count has also crossed the 5,000 level.

In Delhi, 27,561 new Covid-19 cases, the second-highest single-day rise since the beginning of the pandemic, and 40 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours. The deaths recorded are the highest since June 10 last year, when the national capital recorded 44 fatalities. The city’s positivity rate has jumped to 26.22 per cent -- the highest since May 4 when it was at 26.7 per cent.

Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain said Covid-19 cases have started to come down in Mumbai and “we will soon see the same trend” in the national capital. “Plateauing of hospital admissions is an indication that the wave may have peaked. We may see a decline in cases in two to three days,” he added.

Maharashtra reported 46,000 fresh Covid-19 cases at a positivity rate of 21.4 per cent. Of this, Mumbai logged 16,420 cases -- about 41 per cent more than Tuesday -- at a positivity rate of 24 per cent and seven deaths.

For the last four days, Mumbai had been witnessing a drop in daily cases after reporting the highest-ever 20,971 cases on January 7. On Tuesday, it reported 11,647 cases, while two patients died of the infection that day.

The Covid-19 infection has been spreading fast all across the country. About 300 districts in India are reporting weekly Covid-19 case positivity of more than five per cent. As many as 19 states have logged over 10,000 active Covid-19 cases. Health ministry joint secretary Lav Aggarwal said Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Gujarat are emerging as the “states of concern” due to their high infection rate.

Echoing recent concerns by the World Health Organisation that people are considering Omicron as “mild”, saying this was not right, Niti Aayog member (health) Dr V.K. Paul said: “Omicron is not a common cold. It is not so simple and neither should it be taken lightly. And even if Omicron appears less severe, it is because of the extensive vaccination coverage that we have achieved. The same Omicron has challenged the health infrastructure of many countries.”

“It is not possible to genome-sequence all Covid samples,” Dr Paul said, adding still it is clear that Omicron is fast replacing Delta in the country. “Data from metro cities at least 10 days back showed 80 per cent of cases were because of Omicron. But we can’t say that Delta is not there. There is a mixed picture of Delta and Omicron, which will also change.”

Dr Paul said: “We need to be vigilant, get vaccinated and follow Covid-appropriate behaviour… Vaccination is an important pillar in our Covid response programme.”

About 155 crore Covid-19 vaccine doses have already been administered in the country. Currently, the “precautionary” dose for Covid-19 is being given to healthcare/frontline workers and senior citizens aged over 60. Of about 7.5 crore children in the 15-18 age group, about 2.83 crore teenagers have already been given their first dose of Covaxin.

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