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Amid COVID surge, Japan may help India aid by supplying oxygen

Japan could come to India’s aid in meeting the latter’s burgeoning medical oxygen demand due rising Covid-19 cases.

Apart from augmenting supply from domestic manufacturers, the Union government has pressed into the job Indian embassies to procure liquid medical oxygen.

The Ministry of External Affairs has been asked to tie up the immediate supply of oxygen.

Senior government officials told Business Standard one of the first deals would be with a Japanese company which would give 10 tankers to India. This would roughly translate to 19 Indian tankers, said a person involved in the negotiations.

Trivandrum-based HLL Lifecare has floated a global tender for procuring medical oxygen with at least 99.5 per cent purity in 20-tonne ISO containers for hospitals in states and under the central government.

The tender will close on April 28. The tender was floated last week and the Indian embassies followed it up with letters to companies in the countries where they are posted. The Union healthy ministry on Friday had announced the import of 50,000 tonnes of medical oxygen. A meeting of the Empowered Group 2 reviewed the availability of essential medical equipment and oxygen during the pandemic. It decided to map oxygen sources for 12 high-burden states.

Medical oxygen is a critical component in treating Covid-affected patients. There has been increasing demand for medical oxygen, especially from 12 states with a high burden of active Covid cases, which are Maharashtra, Ma­dhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan.

While the demand in Maharashtra is expected to exceed the available production capacity of the state, states like Madhya Pradesh do not have any production capacity to meet their demand for medical oxygen.

Besides, there is a trend of increasing demand in other oxygen-producing states such as Gujarat, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, said the ministry.

To get clarity on the oxygen that needed to be supplied over the next few weeks because of the surge in cases, a mapping exercise was undertaken jointly by the Department for Industry and Internal Trade , the ministries of health and steel, critically affected states, and the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation , along with representatives of the All India Industrial Gas Manufacturers Association .

Sources of medical oxygen and their production capacity were mapped to match the requirements of states and an indicative framework has been developed to guide them on sources of medical oxygen.

Accordingly, 4,880 tonnes, 5,619 tonnes, and 6,593 tonnes have been indicated to 12 states for meeting their projected demand as on April 20, April 25, and April 30, respectively.

The plan is also to set up pressure swing adsorption plants to manufacture oxygen and help hospitals become self-sufficient in their requirement for medical oxygen while reducing the burden on the national grid for supplying medical oxygen. According to the government statement, 162 PSA plants have been sanctioned under PM-Cares. The normal pre-Covid demand for liquid medical oxygen before the pandemic was 700 tonnes per day across the country. Now, Reliance Industries Ltd alone is producing that much. The company tweaked manufacturing at its Jamnagar oil refineries to produce over 700 tonnes a day. It initially produced 100 tonnes of medical-grade oxygen, which has been ramped up. The company is supplying it to Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. It plans to raise its medical-grade oxygen production capacity to 1,000 tonnes, said a person in the know.

Oxygen needs to be transported in special tankers at minus 183 degrees Celsius. The Tata group has decided to import 24 such cryogenic tankers to transport oxygen. Business Standard