Representational use only. Image Source: The Indian Express

Defective Ventilators, Oxygen Shortage and Centre’s Apathy Fuelling Punjab’s COVID Surge

Punjab has witnessed a sharp rise in COVID-19 deaths in the second wave with the highest single-day fatalities of 217 recorded on May 11 – the highest single day tally since the pandemic began. The COVID-19 fatalities have taken nearly a 100% leap from highest single-day death toll of 106 recorded on September 2 last year.

In addition, the number of highest single-day cases has also seen a upward surge of more than 200%–from only 2,848 on September 7 last year to 9,042 on May 8 this year. The total number of deaths in the state has touched 11,111 and the total number of positive cases are at 4,67,539 as of May 12.

Out of 22 districts, the maximum number of total deaths have been recorded in Ludhiana with 1,638 fatalities followed by 1,193 in Jalandhar and 1,158 in Amritsar. With the surge in deaths, the state’s case fatality rate (CFR) has touched 2.38%–higher than the national CFR mark of 1.09%.

These figures paint a very worrisome picture of the second wave of COVID-19 situation in Punjab. According to Amardeep Singh Cheema, chairman of the Punjab Health System Corporation, delay in testing, late reporting to hospitals and co-morbidities among people are the factors behind the increase in the mortality rates.

“People are not getting tested on time. People are reporting to the hospital when they are already in a severe condition. We have less occupancy in Level 2 hospitals and Level 3 hospitals are crossing 81%. People report late and they are directly admitted to Level 3 hospitals,” Cheema said.

Amid the surge, the Punjab government is taking help of Panchayati Raj institutions to reach out to the people living in rural areas. Newsclick had earlier reported on how about half of the COVID deaths were being reported from rural Punjab.

“We are taking Sarpanches and Panches on board to convince the people in rural areas to come forward for testing. The intention is that people come forward for testing and the situation eases out ,” Cheema added.

With growing COVID cases and deaths, the tussle between the Centre and the state government has also become visible. Punjab has been raising alarms regarding oxygen shortage for the last few days. Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh had also proposed procuring oxygen from Pakistan which was rejected by the Centre. The state has demanded 300 MT oxygen daily while it is provided with 227 MT.

In the petition pertaining to COVID-19 management in Punjab, Advocate General Atul Nanda had pointed that even 227 MT is not reaching the state and has requested for the supply of six more containers.

“We consumed 297 MT today (on 12 May) till 5 pm. We are facing oxygen shortage. We have raised the several times. It is a question of lives,” said Cheema.

The state is also witnessing shortage of manpower while ventilators are lying inoperative. Many ventilators received from the Centre under the PM CARES fund are reportedly defective. At the three government medical colleges, at least 237 of the 320 ventilators distributed through the PM CARES fund were found to be faulty.

On May 12, 73 of the 119 ventilators were found defective at the Guru Gobind Singh Medical College (GGSMCH). As per the official sources, these ventilators are the same provided under the PM Care Fund.

On May 1, Punjab Health Secretary Hussan Lal had urged The Centre to repair the malfunctioned ventilators. “In view of the malfunctioning of the ventilators and some ventilators not even installed, non-availability of spares and consumables, the state is finding it difficult to manage serious COVID patients requiring ventilation support,” the letter read.

Last month, the Punjab government had claimed to have invested Rs 1000 crore to ramp up the health infrastructure. But with defunct ventilators, shortage of oxygen and less manpower, Punjab is finding itself in a difficult spot.

Speaking on the overall COVID situation in Punjab, Cheema said it is like “fighting a war”. “We are being told it is a state-subject. The NDMA (National Disaster Management Act) is under the Centre. Even if we have to procure oxygen, we have to ask the Centre. If we want ventilators, we have to request the Centre. Even for Remdevisir medicine, which is also produced in Punjab, we have to request the Centre. Then how, when there is surge, it suddenly becomes a state problem?” asked Cheema.

Recently, three ventilators were given to district Fatehgarh Sahib after a plea was filed by Advocate Girish Bhardwaj regarding shortage of ventilators in the district. With eight hospitals in the district with a capacity of 300 beds, the allotment of only three ventilators is deemed highly inadequate.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over faulty ventilators saying, “I am sure you would agree with me that supplying defective and inferior quality ventilators during a time of national health emergency is a criminal offence. The company responsible for this should be booked and they should be proceeded against as per the law.”

Data collated from Ministry of Health and Family welfare by Peeyush Sharma of NewsClick’s data analytics team.

(This article was first published by Newsclick)