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STATES JOIN CENTRE TO SAY NO ONE DIED OF OXYGEN SHORTAGE

Health ministers of several states, including those ruled by the Opposition, support the Centre. But Rahul Gandhi dissents as he says, ‘Apart from shortage of medical oxygen, there is also shortage of sensitivity and truth.’

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A day after the Union Health Ministry told the Rajya Sabha that no deaths due to lack of medical oxygen have been reported by states and UTs during the second wave of Covid-19, health ministers of several states have issued statements supporting the Centre. This includes health ministers of Opposition-ruled states.

On Tuesday, while responding to a question on whether many Covid-19 patients died on roads and hospitals due to acute shortage of medical oxygen in the second wave, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar said since health is a state subject, states and UTs are responsible for collecting data on Covid-19 deaths.

“No deaths due to lack of oxygen were specifically reported by states and UTs,” he said. The government, however, acknowledged that there was an unprecedented surge in demand for medical oxygen during the second wave and it peaked at nearly 9,000 MT compared to just 3,095 MT in the first wave.

Reacting to the controversy, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani claimed no one died due to shortage of medical oxygen in the state during the second wave. “Nearly 8.5 lakh Covid-19 patients have been treated in Gujarat so far. We have several dedicated Covid-19 hospitals because of which lakhs of people have recovered and been discharged. No patient died due to lack of oxygen at any hospital in the state,” Rupani said.

Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey said that no one died of oxygen shortage in the state. “A total of 9,632 people have died of Covid-19 in Bihar so far but none of them died due to shortage of medical oxygen.” The minister added that during the second wave, Bihar’s demand for medical oxygen saw a 14-fold increase. “But this did not result in any death,” he said.

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, too, claimed that no person died due to shortage of medical oxygen during the second wave of coronavirus infections in Goa. “Goa is the only state which reported accurate Covid-19 deaths. However, there was a delay in reporting deaths from private hospitals,” he said.

Chhattisgarh Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo said that his state has a surplus of oxygen and no deaths were reported in the state due to oxygen shortage during the second wave. “It is true that no patient died due to the lack of oxygen in Chhattisgarh. Our state is an oxygen-surplus state. There could have been some issues regarding management, otherwise, there is no death due to lack of oxygen,” Deo told news agency ANI.

Apart from Deo, Tamil Nadu health secretary J. Radhakrishna also said that the state government ensured adequate availability of oxygen in both government and private hospitals and there was no death due to lack of the life-saving gas.

Madhya Pradesh, too, insisted that no deaths were reported due to shortage of oxygen. “No deaths took place due to lack of oxygen in our state. Union health minister stated the same in Rajya Sabha. Even in Tamil Nadu, the health minister voiced the same opinion,” said Vishwas Sarang, the medical education minister of Madhya Pradesh.

 Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, however, hit out at the Central government for its statement in the Rajya Sabha. “The Centre will soon say there was no Covid-19 pandemic. If there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen, then why were hospitals going to high courts? This (Centre›s reply) is completely false,» Jain said.

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Wednesday said that the Delhi government did not have any data regarding deaths due to the lack of oxygen as the Centre had not let it form a committee to look into the deaths of people, who allegedly died because of the lack of oxygen in hospitals between April and May. “When the Delhi government said yes, it seems like people died due to the lack of oxygen and decided to set up a committee to look into the deaths and give them Rs 5 lakh as compensation, the Centre did not let us do it… The Centre wants to hide the truth about the mismanagement it brought on, and doesn’t want the figures to come out,” he said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, too, criticised the Centre’s no oxygen death comment. He said, “Apart from shortage of medical oxygen, there is also shortage of sensitivity and truth. This shortage existed back then (during second wave) and continues.”

He got support from former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who said, «The government has perfected the art of facing every tragedy with bluff and bluster. First, it was no shortage of vaccines. Just yesterday, Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh reported it has run out of vaccines. It is the same story in many vaccination centres.» He added that now it is «no reports of deaths due to shortage of oxygen… Read that carefully. Minister did not say there were ‹no deaths›. He said ‹no REPORTS of deaths›. A blind and deaf government will not be able to ‹see› or ‹hear› the truth.»

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut also accused the Central government of lying after it said that no Covid-19 deaths had been reported due to an oxygen shortage during the second wave, and demanded that a case be filed against it.

While speaking to reporters here, Raut asked what would happen to families who had lost their loved ones due to the oxygen shortage after hearing this. «I am speechless. What would have happened to the families of those who lost their loved ones to oxygen shortage after hearing this statement? A case should be filed against the government. They are lying,» the Shiv Sena leader said.

Interestingly, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday said the state government never reported any death due to shortage of oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19. When asked by a TV channel about the Centre›s statement, Tope said, «We never said people died due to oxygen shortage in the state. Many of them had issues like co-morbidities and other illnesses. No death has taken place due to the shortage of oxygen.”

Reacting to the Opposition›s allegation, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said there are three things that one must pay attention to in the reply given by the government in Parliament. “The government has said health is a state subject. It said it just collects the data sent by the state/UTs. It doesn›t generate the data.”

“Rahul Gandhi and the Aam Aadmi Party are doing politics over Covid-19 deaths. The health ministry has replied in very categorical terms that health is state’s subject.”

“Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut is saying he is shocked to hear the government›s reply, but the Maharashtra government in its affidavit in the court itself said no deaths have occurred due to shortage of oxygen in the state,” Patra said. Hitting out at the Congress, he said that Chhattisgarh Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo said that was no death due to oxygen shortage in his state. “We are surprised. Rahul Gandhi should know what Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh governments have said in their statements.”

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