Just weeks ago, we saw the positive announcement of eight new ASUs to be constructed in India, and now this – restrictions imposed on the supply chain to prioritise medical applications.

Those ASUs – and many others expected across the country – couldn’t come soon enough. But is oxygen production capacity that really the story here?

This is very much a logistical challenge. Just short of ringfencing supply, it’s a case of prioritising as much oxygen as possible for medical purposes an getting it to those hotspots, as the long and arduous fight against Covid continues.

It’s a dire situation the country finds itself in, another regional victim of a virus that seemingly knows no bounds and strikes with renewed vigour with every new variant that emerges.

AIIGMA has more than played its part yet again, I understand, with all members ‘scrambling hard’ to get the supplies so desperately required – and many going that extra mile for free, I’m told.

It was only 12 months ago, of course, we were writing about the association’s pivotal role in pushing through temporary legislation that enabled all manufacturers of industrial oxygen in the country to obtain a license to sell the product for medical use within 24 hours of their application being received.

Read more: Industrial oxygen to be used in India as medical gas (April 2020)

The proposal was put forward by AIIGMA to ensure the availability and supply of oxygen for medical use across the country and the grant of permission promptly issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (Government of India), and was seen at the time as something of a breakthrough development for many other countries to follow suit.

Back then, on 8th April 2020, India had just under 6,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 178 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University. Its position has escalated exponentially since then, with confirmed cases of now more than 15 million and almost 179,000 fatalities recorded, at the time of writing.

The country is also in the grip of a vaccine conundrum, I understand, with struggles to ramp up the capacities of both an indigenous vaccine (Covaxin) and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India.

Read more: India – what do we know about its Covid crisis?

And so, we arrive at today’s news of growing oxygen shortages and new restrictions on the supply chain to meet medical demand. This is, hopefully, a relatively short-term measure, but it’s also described in polite terms as a particularly messy one. There are concerns at how effective any such state management of supply and demand can really be, while this crisis highlights other challenges in the supply chain across India.

“India needs liquid cylinders,” I was told, referencing the fact that there is simply not enough spare capacity in cylinder transportation and storage, not to mention cylinder filling/bottling capabilities.

It’s one thing for steel companies and refineries to be stepping up to distribute oxygen to crisis-stricken states, but they do of course need the vessels and infrastructure to be able to move that product. Likewise, hospitals and particularly makeshift field hospitals often require smaller, more portable cylinder supply of oxygen as opposed to the larger cryogenic tanks that are so commonplace.

This is the message borne out by my colleagues in gasworld Business Intelligence too: there should be ample oxygen production capacity across India, the urgency is in fact in ensuring that oxygen can be distributed to all of the pinch points that it’s required.