The covid-19 (coronavirus) crisis continues to deepen in Peru, where gasworld understands there is a significant supply shortage of oxygen and individuals have been pictured taking supply into their own hands.

At the time of writing, Peru has over 196,500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 5,465 fatalities, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Such figures have rapidly propelled Peru to the unwanted status as the second hardest-hit country in the South America region, behind Brazil where the struggle with Covid-19 has been so well documented.

While Brazil’s plight has pushed it almost 700,000 confirmed cases, second only to the US (1.9 million cases), the situation in Peru is such that the country has now overtaken both France and Germany in terms of cases and is fast emerging on the shoulder of Italy (235,000) – once the well-documented epicentre of the pandemic itself.

Various media reports toward the end of last week cited Peruvians collapsed in the street, others dragging their suffering relatives to hospital doors, and a crisis in the healthcare sector that has seen those hospitals unable to admit new patients.

gasworld understands from its source in South America that many of those same hospitals have also been unable to provide the crucial oxygen required for many patients.

As a result, incredible scenes have been observed and pictured with members of the public queuing up at cylinder filling sites for medical oxygen refilling – having procured cylinders themselves at significant cost. This ‘black market’ for oxygen cylinders has seen vessels listed for sale at exorbitant prices on various websites and social media platforms.

Peru: An oxygen market in focus

“The news talks about people trying to buy directly oxygen cylinders (or refill them) since public hospitals had no oxygen for their relative who are being treated for Covid, also citing very high prices paid to resellers (independent distributors) of industrial oxygen of up to 6,000 soles for one cylinder (around $1,714/cyl), and in general mentioning a lack of cylinder containers, and very high prices for refilling the cylinder,” our source explained.

“Some news [outlets] report that medical oxygen demand has grown five-fold, and the local companies cannot cope with the situation, and that the public health system is in crisis due to the virus.”

Peru’s President, Martin Vizcarra, reportedly acknowledged the growing public concern and outcry last week and promptly announced emergency measures to increase production and access to oxygen for medical purposes, declaring the gas a strategic health resource.

gasworld--Rob-Cockerill

A new low in the battle against Covid-19?

By Rob Cockerill, Global Managing Editor

Many distressing scenes and ‘new normals’ have been observed around the world at the hands of coronavirus since January 2020, but images of citizens queuing up and waiting in line to fill their own independently acquired oxygen cylinders is surely another new low and illustrates the plight of Peru’s battle against Covid-19 right now.

It brings into question whether we should even call this situation a battle, perhaps a struggle would be better term.

Our source in South America told me that there is indeed a ‘severe shortage’ of medical oxygen in Peru, and that the country’s President had issued an urgency decree (DU 66/2020) declaring oxygen of national interest – and establishing a priority for medical use over industrial uses. The decree ‘contemplates the disbursement of 84.7m soles (approx. $24m).

The country has also adopted other measures like allowing the use of oxygen with 93% purity for medical patients, importing oxygen from other countries through the local gas companies, purchasing some plants assumed to be PSA systems, and buying thousands of cylinders for oxygen use. Peru has also installed centralised oxygen networks in various hospitals, I understand, as well as acquiring oxygen concentrators to be provided to the indigenous population (usually located in remote and high areas). These measures are described in the decree.

There are fears that the situation could yet deepen further. Peru has a total population of around 33 million inhabitants, of which around 30% are estimated to live in and around the capital, Lima. With an official poverty rate of around 20%, and as many as one million Peruvians thought to be living in extreme poverty, there are fears that this medical crisis could get even worse before it gets better.

In trying to look even further ahead, humanitarian fears are compounded by those related to the economy. Our source told me, “Although Peru’s economy has been growing over the last decade with low inflation, and the macroeconomic picture is good and the government has announced a generous emergency package to cope with the confinement, there is a very large informal sector of the economy which has been severely hit by the virus.”