Lucknow: On the afternoon of 22 April, 44-year-old Zafar Abbas was adjusting the oxygen cylinder he had just refilled, when the Lucknow police arrested him.
Abbas, a resident of Kazmain Road locality in Turiya Ganj, needed the oxygen cylinder for his 85-year-old father, Shahryar Hussain, who had high fever and breathing troubles.
The 44-year-old spent nearly seven hours at the Sahadatganj police station in Lucknow before he was allowed to go home.
“My family was worried. My father is seriously ill. They arrested me around 3.30 pm and released me around 11 pm,” Zafar told ThePrint over the phone.
Zafar’s arrest was the result of an order passed by the Yogi Adityanath government on 21 April, which prohibits the supply of oxygen to individuals, “except for those in serious conditions”.
According to the order, only hospitals will be allowed to handle oxygen supply.
A source in the UP government said this was an effort to clamp down on the cylinders making it to the black market. “Those individuals who have prescriptions from doctors can get oxygen. Other than them, no other individual will get them,” the source said. “This is to stop them making it to the black market.”
At the gas agencies in Lucknow, however, even those with emergency letters from doctors and government hospitals were being sent back.
The order has now put at risk the Covid-19 patients isolating at home, who may need oxygen supplementation. And given the oxygen shortage in Uttar Pradesh, it has angered relatives of patients desperately looking to procure their own oxygen supply.
Helplessness, anger on the streets
When ThePrint visited Lucknow’s gas plants on 22 April, it found hundreds of people waiting for oxygen cylinders, with all of them eventually being turned away due to the government order.
At Murari Gas Station in Nadarganj, on the outskirts of Lucknow, distressed family members began fighting with police personnel.
The gas plant had been supplying oxygen to private individuals but after the state government’s directions, over 25 police personnel have been deployed here.
It is a similar scene at Srinathji Gasses, located just a few metres away — police shooing away people and families crying for help.
The two plants now exclusively supply oxygen to hospitals.
While Srinathji is catering to Lok Bandhu Hospital and Balrampur Hospital, the Murari Gas Station has 41 hospitals on its list.
Police personnel deployed in the area expressed their helplessness.
“Around 500 people have come here. We understand their misery. Hospitals are not admitting them and now the government does not want to give them oxygen cylinders at home isolation either,” said a police officer at the Murari Gas Station. “But we are helpless. We have been given orders to stop them from entering the gas plants.”
‘Not getting oxygen cylinders’
Relatives of patients told ThePrint that the government order has only compounded an already dire situation, particularly in Lucknow.
Amritanshu Pandey, 22, a resident of Jankipuram area of Lucknow, said he first struggled to get a cylinder, and when he did, couldn’t fill it with oxygen.
His father Sukhdev Pandey is suffering from Covid-19 and his oxygen saturation, or spO2 levels, have fallen below 60 per cent.
“Somehow we managed one oxygen cylinder but it was empty so we went to the refilling centres but none of them were ready to refill,” he told ThePrint. “On the other hand, we are not getting a bed with oxygen in any hospital in Lucknow. No one is ready to help; we are helpless.”
M.D. Singh, a resident of Cantt Road in Lucknow, has been struggling to get an oxygen cylinder for his 76-year-old wife Aruna Singh, who has Covid and is diabetic. Their close relative told ThePrint that the family managed a cylinder but it isn’t enough.
Experts are now calling the government order arbitrary.
Dr A.K. Shukla, a former chief medical officer (CMO) in the UP government, called it a “blanket order”.
He said black marketing should be stopped “but to stop supplying oxygen to individuals is a bad decision”. “Apart from Covid patients, asthma patients also need oxygen cylinders. Now where will they get it? The government should rethink its order,” Shukla added.
“Oxygen is vital for Covid patients whose oxygen levels fall,” said Dr Ashutosh Verma, a Lucknow-based private practitioner. “The government should try to increase oxygen supply in all hospitals of Lucknow, otherwise the situation will worsen.”
Hospitals facing oxygen shortage
Hospitals in Lucknow continue to face a major oxygen shortage. A number of hospitals administrations told ThePrint that their vehicles are parked outside oxygen plants and supply agencies but added that their current stocks would run out in a few hours.
“We have issued a notice of shortage of oxygen because in this panic situation, we want to save lives,” said Nishant Singh, manager of Make Well Hospital in Gomti Nagar area of Lucknow.
“There is a shortage of liquid oxygen, and there is a shortage of normal oxygen cylinders,” he added. “If the administration provides us 50 per cent of the required oxygen cylinders, we will manage the remaining 50 per cent. But no one is coming to help. Vendors are unable to supply us with oxygen, and we had no option left so we issued the notice.”
Suparna Dutta of the Charak Hospital in Lucknow said, “We are still facing an oxygen shortage crisis. It’s severe and we are not able to do anything.”
The hospital is not admitting any more Covid-19 patients.
The government is, however, insisting that the situation will be resolved.
“We are solving the issue; all hospitals will soon get proper oxygen supply,” Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh told ThePrint.
In a statement released by the state government Thursday, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed officials to monitor the refilling process at gas plants. He also called for oxygen tankers to be connected with GPS so monitoring can happen easily.
Yogi also ordered strict action against those found selling oxygen in the black market, calling for them to be booked under the National Security Act (NSA).
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)