News has emerged in the last few hours that new restrictions are to be implemented in India to manage the application of oxygen supply and prioritise use for medical purposes, as the country continues to grapple with Covid-19.

Several states across India are understood to be flagging oxygen shortages as Covid cases surge, with the government announcing that oxygen supply will now be restricted to just nine industries.

From later this week (Thursday 22nd), industrial oxygen supply will be restricted to those entities involved in refilling cylinders, the pharma sector, steel plants, oil refineries, wastewater treatment, food and water treatment, nuclear energy facilities and continuous production sites that must keep processes running.

In essence, the order of the day is essential industrial use only, with medical oxygen provision the priority.

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It comes after a weekend in which global confirmed deaths due to coronavirus passed three million according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization (WHO) had also warned that the world was ‘approaching the highest rate of infection’ so far.

This certainly appears to be the case in India, described as experiencing its second wave and having recorded more than 250,000 new cases on Saturday (17th) alone, cite various reports.

According to John Hopkins University, at the time of writing confirmed cases in India total more than 15 million, with almost 179,000 fatalities. The country has surpassed Brazil in terms of cases, though not fatalities, and is second only to the US (31 million) in its rising infection numbers.

It is not just oxygen in crisis across the country; several states are reportedly low on hospital beds and (medical) drugs too.

A crisis in distributiion, not production

According to gasworld Business Intelligence estimates, the problem lies in the oxygen supply chain and not in oxygen capacity itself.

Karina Kocha, Business Intelligence Manager, explained, ”According to our data, the total annual production capacity for oxygen in India is around 65,000 tonnes per day (tpd) for 2020/2021. This is the total amount of oxygen that can be produced at all oxygen facilities in India.”

“The steel industry requires just over 70% of this volume, another 15% is consumed by the petrochemicals sector, while the non-ferrous industry metals consumes about 5%. The ‘normal’ medical oxygen demand, according to our estimations, was around 1,600 – 1,700 tpd in the period from 2016-2019 and before the Covid pandemic struck. Due to Covid-related oxygen demand that appeared in 2020, however, oxygen consumption in hospitals rocketed to about 10-12,000 tpd in 2020 and is expected to be about 8-10,000 tpd in 2021.”

“What does this mean? Whilst a theoretical approach,” she added, “it reveals that the main problem is not in a lack of production. When we talk about availability of oxygen, we also talk about the ability to deliver and distribute – to organise logistics, to have enough cryogenic (tank) trucks, cylinders, and refilling facilities. The situation here looks like it is not production, but the distribution system that has become for India the bottleneck on the path of oxygen from factories to hospitals.”

medical oxygen mask

Industrial-medical oxygen

Today’s news continues an escalating story in the fight against Covid-19 (coronavirus) and comes just over one year since India broke ground as the first country to temporarily allow industrial oxygen producers to manufacture and sell the gas for medical use.

gasworld reported on 8th April 2020 that the Government of India had granted permission for manufacturers of industrial oxygen to manufacture and sell the gas for medical use, a proposal put forward by the All India Industrial Gases Manufacturer’s Association (AIIGMA), to ensure the availability and supply of oxygen for medical use across the country.

The grant was issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (Government of India) and essentially 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.

gasworld has reached out to AIIGMA for comment on this latest development.

Ongoing impact

Meanwhile, with India’s ongoing battle with Covid and this accelerating second wave, fears have surfaced around the impact on the country’s economy.

This has been seen in the performance of India’s currency, the rupee, with a reported fall of around 3% since the start of April, tarnishing what had been a strong start to the year for the currency and the economy’s nascent revival and arousing global investor concerns.