A 12-member National Task Force has been set up by the Supreme Court to assess availability and distribution of medical oxygen – on scientific, rational and equitable basis – across the country.
The task force will also suggest measures to ensure similarly rational and equitable availability of medicines needed to treat COVID-19, and provide inputs, based on members’ scientific and specialised knowledge, to meet others challenges to have been raised by the Covid pandemic.
Sources told NDTV Supreme Court judges spoke personally to each member of the task force, which is expected to begin work within a week. Reports will be submitted to the centre and the court, but its recommendations will be sent directly to the Supreme Court.
The court has directed the centre to provide the necessary assistance and said that all stakeholders – from state governments to hospitals – must co-operate.
The task force will have an initial tenure of six months.
The task force is to be led by Dr Bhabatosh Biswas, the former Vice Chancellor of the West Bengal University of Health Sciences, and will include Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairperson and Managing Director of Gurgaon’s Medanta Hospital and Heart Institute.
Other members include leading doctors from Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Vellore’s Christian Medical College, Bengaluru’s Narayana Healthcare and Mumbai’s Fortis Hospital.
Setting up of the task force had been ordered by the top court on Friday, when it called for a revamp of the centre’s allocation of oxygen to different states. The court said the centre failed to consider factors like ambulances, lower-level Covid care facilities and patients in home quarantine.
The court had also demanded to know if the centre was prepping for a possible third Covid wave.
India is battling a devastating wave of coronavirus cases; this morning over four lakh new cases were reported in the past 24 hours. The number of active Covid cases in the country over 37 lakh – nearly four times the previous high recorded in September last year.
Oxygen has become a crucial medical resource because significantly more patients are suffering from breathlessness in this wave of infections, the centre has said.
The shortfall led to panicked SOSs from Delhi hospitals and to terrified relatives of patients running around to get oxygen cylinders on their own, often from the black market.
Last week 12 people died at a private hospital after the oxygen ran out.
It also led to the Delhi government approaching the Delhi High Court for relief, following which the Supreme Court took up the matter and eventually ordered the centre to provide Delhi with 700 metric tonnes of oxygen per day.
“You will have to give 700 tonnes to Delhi (700 tonnes dena hi padega)… The centre continues to be in contempt for not supplying 700 tonnes of oxygen to Delhi,” the court had said.
The centre has insisted the oxygen crisis is a problem of transportation rather than supply.