Panic buying leads to shortage of oxygen cylinders

Sruthi A

New Delhi: In India, the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases is giving rise to a multitude of problems- the dire lack of hospital beds, medical and support staff and one that is observed very recently, shortage of oxygen cylinders in the hospitals. The result – patients are left gasping for air and tread the faster road to death.

The lethal short supply of oxygen cylinders is a result of panic buying among masses. With no sight of reduction of COVID-19 cases, people especially in urban centres, are stocking up the cylinders for concerns relating to the shortage of hospital beds and to treat their future respiratory troubles, just in case.

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This panic buying led to not only the shortage of oxygen cylinders which are utmost necessary in hospitals but also in their prices. An oxygen cylinder costing Rs. 3,000-Rs. 10,000 earlier depending on its capacity, now costs almost double, the dealers say. With the demand of cylinders exponentially increasing, with no rise in the supply will only inflate the prices further, they add.

Last month, Mumbai’s KEM hospital came under the scanner when the families of COVID-19 patients reported the lack of oxygen cylinders available for patients. Though the hospital authorities denied such claims, this case led to a sharp rise in demand for oxygen cylinders in metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai among others where the COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

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With governments stressing on ‘cure from home’, private hospitals saw an opportunity in providing medical care right at the door-step of the patients. A private hospital in New Delhi now rents an oxygen cylinder for Rs. 3,000- Rs. 5,000 for people in home-isolation.

Keeping in mind the crisis at hand, the doctors in Telangana suggested the state government for making a doctor’s prescription mandatory for the sale of oxygen cylinders. Alternative usage of industrial cylinders to replenish the current oxygen requirement at hospitals is also suggested by the Indian Medical Association Telangana.

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Health care authorities find it preposterous for the non-patients to stock oxygen cylinders as the oxygen supply must be controlled by a doctor or a health-care provider. The doctors only recommend the supplementary oxygen supply for those suffering from chronic respiratory illnesses as a medicine to be taken under their supervision. With the domestic demand on the rise, the authorities are now mulling ways to support those in real need.

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