At a press conference, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the Centre, as a part of proactive interventions, has begun the process of installing PSA oxygen generation plants in 246 hospitals in 18 states and union territories in the first phase, out of which 67 were at various stages of completion.

Health Secretary Bhushan also counted the various steps taken by the including infrastructure augmentation, ensuring un-interrupted oxygen supply, monitoring and co-ordination with state governments and proactive interventions.

In the second phase, such plants would be installed in 150 more hospitals across 30 states and UTs, he said while stressing that India was in a “comfortable position” in terms of oxygen availability.

“There has been no shortage of oxygen in the last 10 months. There is no paucity at present. We are in an extremely comfortable position when it comes to supply of medical oxygen,” Bhushan said.

As a precautionary measure, the health ministry has initiated the process of importing 1 lakh metric tonnes of liquid medical oxygen to meet any exigency as it is feared that COVID-19 cases may surge during the festive season and the winter months.

Giving more details, Bhushan said the number of COVID-19 patients on oxygen support, which include those in ICU, ventilator and oxygen supported beds, increased from 43,022 on September 1 to 75,000 in the third week of that month. The number then started declining and as of Tuesday it was over 57,000, he said.

“Though there has been a dip, it is still higher as compared to that on September 1. However, it should not be a reason to worry as our capacity is much higher,” the health secretary said.

Elucidating further, Bhushan said on an average, 2,397 metric tonnes of medical oxygen was consumed daily from September 2 to 8, and even then 15,282 metric tonnes of oxygen was in stock at the end of the week.

The average consumption increased to 2,791 MT per day from September 9 to September 15, which was the peak period of consumption. Despite that, 14,932 MT oxygen was left in stock at the end of the week, he said, adding consumption was down to 2,503 MT daily from October 6 to 14 and there was a surplus of 17,103 MT.

“Oxygen production capacity has been enhanced from 5,913 MT in April to 6,862 MT in September. It will be further increased to 7,191 MT by the end of October,” the health secretary said.

Oxygen-supported beds in the country have been increased from around 93,000 in April to more than 3,80,000 now. These include oxygen-supported beds, ICU beds and ventilator beds. 

Bhushan further said that liquid oxygen stored in cryogenic tanks have been kept in hospitals.

On April 1, there were 606 cryogenic plants with a capacity of storing 5,938 metric tonnes of oxygen. Since then, 78 cryogenic plants have been installed in the hospitals and an additional capacity of 894 metric tonnes has been created.

“We have also proposed installing cryogenic plants at various places and work is in progress on that. We believe that by end of October 91 more cryogenic plants will be installed taking the total to 775 units with a cumulative capacity of 7,438 metric tonnes, the health secretary said.

“This is something which will be useful even after COVID-19 cases go down or the pandemic ends.”

The health secretary reiterated that people should not let their guard down and warned that cases will increase again if COVID-appropriate behaviour is not followed.

ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava stressed that “all precautions should continue even when we have a vaccine”.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had recently said a COVID-19 vaccine was likely by the first quarter of next year and the Centre has estimated to receive and utilise 40-50 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccine on 20-25 crore people.

Asked about vaccine priority groups, Bhushan said the National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 has come up with a draft prioritisation plan.

“If the present trials proceed according to plan and succeed, then the number of doses that would be available from January to July would be sufficient to immunise all those on the priority list,” Bhushan, who is the co-chair of the panel, said. 

He also said a central team would be sent to poll-bound Bihar to ensure COVID-appropriate behaviour is followed during the elections.

To a question on capping the price for COVID-19 treatment, the health secretary said the Supreme Court has given directions to the state and central governments in this regard and they Are being followed.

He said more than 9.6 crore COVID-19 tests have been conducted so far. The cumulative, weekly and daily positivity rate was 7.90 per cent, 6.0 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively.

“COVID-19 fatality rate has declined from 1.77 pc on September 1 to 1.52 pc as on date. New COVID-19 cases reported in a span of 24 hours were below 50,000 after 84 days,” Bhushan said, adding Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal account for 64 per cent of all active COVID-19 cases.

The health secretary added that India’s COVID-19 cases per million population in the last seven days was 310 against a global average of 315.

With over 67 lakh people recuperating from the infection so far, India has the highest number of recoveries in the world. It stands second in the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in any country so far, he said.

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