17 October 2021
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Late evening on April 21, a private hospital in Delhi rushed to the High Court with an emergency petition – its medical oxygen supply was running out in three hours, it needed urgent replenishments.

India was then in the throes of a brutal second wave of Covid-19. In many places, even patients admitted to hospitals were dying due to a lack of oxygen.

Yet, the Central government maintained in court that the country had enough stocks of medical oxygen, that adequate supplies had been allocated to all states, and those reporting shortages were not managing the supplies well. It stuck to this stand in several hearings in both the high court and the Supreme Court.

Exactly two months later, however, it quietly modified the formula it uses to calculate oxygen requirements.

On June 21, the National Health Mission revised the average oxygen requirement for a patient admitted in an Intensive Care Unit from 24 litres per minute to 30 litres per minute. This was done on the recommendation of the Directorate General of Health Services, which functions under the health ministry.

“We noticed that per patient oxygen requirement had increased between the first and second wave,” said Dr Rajiv Garg, former additional director and currently Professor of Excellence at the…

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Abdul Gh Lone