Augment supply of oxygen, vaccine to TN, HC tells Centre

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Chennai: The Madras High Court on Monday said it was necessary for the Centre to take urgent measures to augment the supply of oxygen to Tamil Nadu, which foresees a sharp rise in demand for the life-saving gas in the coming days in the wake of surging COVID-19 cases.

Besides oxygen, supply of vaccines and drugs needs to be augmented for the State and neighbouring Union Territory of Puducherry, the First Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said.

The court was hearing a case taken up on its own on issues, including shortage of beds and ventillators, besides diversion of oxygen.

Regarding oxygen supply, the Bench noted that while the demand in the State a week back was 475 MT on a daily basis, the allocation of May 8, 2021 provides for 419 MT, including a daily 40 MT supply from Palakkad in Kerala, till May 12, 2021.

“The State now perceives that, with the rising (COVID) numbers, the demand for oxygen will hit 800 MT within the next few days and seeks augmented supply of oxygen,” it said.

It has also been reported in a section of the media that local residents have stopped vehicles carrying oxygen from Palakkad to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and the neighbouring areas in view of the perceived shortage of oxygen supply in Kerala, the Bench said.

The State and the Centre should find ways of effective supply to the south-western region since supply from Sriperumbudur near here or elsewhere in north or central Tamil Nadu may be logistically difficult to reach there and, at any rate, less efficient than ensuring supply from neighbouring Palakkad which is about 40 km away.

The State has also submitted that the Sterlite facility in Tuticorin may begin production this week with an anticipated 40 MT per day initial supply.

“In the light of the present allocation of medical oxygen and the rising need of the State, it is necessary to think of a plan B. Oxygen generators have apparently been set up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation at short notice at some places. This avenue must be explored, as also indicated in the previous order,” they said.

“If, as the experts suggest, a third wave may be in the offing, it is necessary to be over-prepared…,” the Bench added.

The reports filed on behalf of the State indicate augmentation of beds, particularly oxygenated beds, it said.

In Puducherry, the cases are also on the rise, but there does not appear to be any dearth of oxygen, given the limited demand for it in the Union Territory.

Holding that both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry seem to be crying out for the requisite supply of drugs and vaccines, the court said that in the former, the vaccination for persons below the age of 45 has not been possible because of the lack of the number of doses.

In Puducherry, the position appears to be somewhat better with about two lakh doses in hand out of slightly over four lakh doses that had been allocated and supplied to the Union Territory.

Similarly, Remdesivir appears to be in short supply in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the judges noted and pointed out Tamil Nadu opening up more centres to sell the drug.

The court pointed out that the Solicitor-General has assured to take up the case of both Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory with the Centre, at least till such time that the National Task Force set up by the Supreme Court order gets down to the nitty-gritties of allocation and the like.

The apex court had earlier constituted a 12-member National Task Force of top medical experts to formulate a methodology for allocation of oxygen to States and Union Territories for saving lives of COVID-19 patients and to facilitate a public health response to the pandemic.

“It is necessary that immediate urgent measures be taken, both to augment the supply of oxygen in the State and of vaccines and drugs to both the State and the Union Territory,” the court said.

While a new government is in place in Tamil Nadu, and changes in key personnel, it is evident that continuity in the office of the Health Secretary has been maintained to ensure that there is no loss of momentum or lack of rhythm in the continuing measures to fight the pandemic in the State, the Bench said.

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