• Stodia Jackson

The Second Wave of COVID-19: The Oxygen Crisis

India is currently experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 that has resulted in a steep increase in the demand for oxygen. As of May 2020, 300,000 new COVID-19 cases were being recorded per day. Unfortunately, an estimated 178 patients and still counting have died due to the oxygen supply shortage.

In India, obtaining oxygen for patients is usually the responsibility of the healthcare system. However, the current crisis has forced family members of COVID-19 patients to go through the difficult process of procuring empty cylinders and filling them with oxygen themselves. In addition to the lack of oxygen, there is also the shortage of hospital beds, antiviral drugs, coronavirus test kits, and many other essential tools the country needs to deal with the pandemic.

Why is there a lack of oxygen in India?

Bureaucratic hurdles have also been cited as a factor in delaying the delivery of this critical resource during this crisis. Experts have revealed that the country is producing enough oxygen, about 7000 tons a day. The government has directed that oxygen for industrial use be diverted to medical use. However, the challenge is in the lack of centralized coordination. Most of the country’s oxygen producers are based in the Eastern part of the country, while the demand for oxygen is higher in the North and Western cities of the country. This often entails 18-hour trips or longer to deliver the oxygen tankers.

An additional challenge is in the transportation of oxygen. Liquid oxygen is flammable. Thus, it cannot be transported via air but needs to be transported by road, rail, or sea freight. During this crisis, most oxygen-tanker drivers have been victims of the virus. As a result, officials have had to arrange for replacement drivers.

The lack of oxygen in India has been linked to decades of neglect in public health spending in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people that are now facing a deadly second wave of the COVID virus. It is estimated that about 1% of the gross domestic product is allocated to the healthcare system and this has clearly culminated into the current hurdles that the country is facing.

A number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Thailand have offered aid to India. For example, on the 28th of April 2021, the United States dispatched a shipment to India, which included more than 400 oxygen cylinders and 960, 000 rapid-testing kits. However, more patients died waiting for these shipments to be delivered due to custom queues.

According to Doctor Sumit Ray, the critical care chief at Delhi's Holy Family Hospital, although the government has taken over oxygen distribution, the problem is the inadequacies in the system for the coordinated transportation and delivery of the oxygen tankers. The health system in India did not have the capacity to handle the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crisis in India illustrates the unpredictability of events during a pandemic. In January 2021, the country was reporting a significant decrease in new COVID-19 cases and scientists were investigating what the country was doing right and how this could be mimicked in countries still experiencing high infection rates. But in less than four months, the country was hit by a second wave, far worse than the first. Experts say the country did not use its time wisely when the COVID-19 caseload dropped. However, systematic bureaucratic hurdles are a big factor shaping the current oxygen shortage.


Speaking Plainly:

  • The second wave of COVID-19 in India has resulted in a surge in oxygen demand.

  • There is a lack of centralized coordination in the production and transportation of oxygen to where it is in higher demand.

  • The crisis in India illustrates the need to remain alert and to take the opportunity of relative calm to strengthen health systems during a pandemic.