Indian Supreme Court creates task force on oxygen crisis

India’s Supreme Court has said it will establish a task force as part of efforts to improve medical oxygen delivery in the healthcare sector as the country battles a brutal second wave of Covid-19.

The court, which criticized the government’s handling of the worsening health care crisis, said on Saturday it had established a committee to put in place an “efficient and transparent mechanism” to allocate oxygen supplies to states and hospitals.

The development comes after weeks of wrangling between the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state governments on oxygen supplies. The 12-member committee “will facilitate a public health response to the pandemic based on scientific and specialist knowledge,” the court added.

India reported more than 400,000 new cases of Covid and more than 4,000 deaths on Saturday, although large parts of the country are subject to varying degrees of curfews and lockdowns. Tamil Nadu, the hub of India’s auto industry, announced this weekend that it was imposing a two-week lockdown from Monday.

the coronavirus outbreak which overwhelmed India’s healthcare system has resulted in an oxygen black market as well-to-do citizens seek life-saving medical care, with police seizing hundreds of oxygen concentrators hidden in high-end restaurants in New Delhi.

In a series of tweets in recent days, police said they had recovered 524 concentrators from a farm on the outskirts of the capital and from restaurants in Delhi’s famous Khan Market.


Number of confirmed coronavirus infections in India

Police said the concentrators, which are used to deliver pure oxygen to Covid-19 patients, were sold at least 3.5 times their normal price.

Authorities are looking for restaurant owner Navneet Kalra, a socialite often photographed with Bollywood stars and cricketers. At least five others have already been arrested.

Some have praised those who procure life-saving equipment for coronavirus patients unable to obtain hospital care.

“My experience is that 4 people that I transferred and who also log on obtained OCs from him which saved lives. [sic]”Tweeted Prasanto Roy, policy consultant based in Delhi, Kalra Network. He added that the oxygen concentrators were “delivered quickly” and “the cheapest on the market”.

Roy said the raids would have a “chilling effect” on those trying to import oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment to help alleviate the crisis.

Over the past month, the country’s social media has been inundated with requests for help from people searching for oxygen, life-saving medicine or hospital beds for critically ill loved ones. Hospitals’ oxygen supplies have in some cases been depleted, resulting in the deaths of patients.

The shortage of supplies such as drugs has created strong financial incentives for those willing to commit drug fraud, piracy and counterfeiting.

Last month, police raided several industrial factories used to manufacture and package fake vials of remdesivir, an injectable antiviral drug used to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients in hospitals. At least 14 people were arrested.

India has confirmed more than 22 million coronavirus infections and more than 242,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But epidemiologists believe the real number is much higher, as India’s limited screening capacity and deterrents from reporting deaths from the disease mean that many cases are likely to go unchecked.

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