While everyone is doom-surfing information on COVID-19 on social media where someone is asking for help in every second tweet, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said there's no shortage of oxygen in the state.
In a virtual interaction with select journalists on April 24, 2021, Adityanath said no hospital in Uttar Pradesh, be it government or private, has any shortage of oxygen. He added that hoarding and black marketing were causing the scarcity.
The CM also demanded that action be taken under the National Security Act and properties of those be seized who spread "rumours" and propaganda on social media and try to "spoil the atmosphere".
Even in a review meeting with top officials on April 25, 2021, he instructed them to act against private hospitals if they found them to be reporting a scarcity of oxygen supply just to "create fear", reported The Hindu.
Before speaking to experts and people working on the ground in UP, FactChecker did an initial Twitter search to see how grave or not the problem is. This is what we found:
"I needed a ventilator for a close family member in Mirzapur. In towns like Mirzapur there is no trained ventilator operator. No doctors in hospitals can operate a ventilator and most of them lay defunct," said Veena Singh Chauhan, a resident of Kanpur, who failed to arrange a ventilator for her relative.
Factchecker then spoke to doctors, experts and volunteers battling with the COVID-19 crisis in the state and found that the CM's claim is misleading since shortage of oxygen and ventilators is a serious cause of concern in the state. Cities like Lucknow, Varanasi and Kanpur are reeling under extreme pressure to facilitate adequate COVID-19 facilities for patients.
"The supply of oxygen is really limited. We received a call from Mirzapur, where a person was in dire need of a ventilator but they could not get one in any hospital. So, we reached out to the Chief Medical Officer who said they appealed for 50 tonnes of oxygen but they were allocated only 40 tonnes. While 20 tonnes were sent to them, the other 20 were kept in Lucknow," said Murari Singh, a student at Banaras Hindu University and a volunteer of Kisan Satyagraha, a Gandhian student collective working on consolidating and facilitating resources on COVID-19.
He added that most towns in Uttar Pradesh are facing the same issue since most of the resources are only accessed by Lucknow.
Utkarsha, a member of a collective named Covid Warriors, seconded Singh by saying they were all pinning their hopes on the oxygen cylinders that are going to be sent to Uttar Pradesh by the Oxygen Express trains commissioned by the Indian Railways.
"A doctor friend of mine could not manage to get an oxygen cylinder for his uncle since the CMO (Chief Minister's Office) did not feel he needed oxygen or a medicine. The CMO said unless his oxygen level falls till 60 they cannot provide them with the necessary aide," Grishma Srivastava, another member of the same collective, told FactChecker.
Many hospitals didn't answer calls and when any did, they responded saying they had no beds with oxygen left. Factchecker called up Lucknow's KK Hospital and was told that all their beds with oxygen facilities for COVID-19 patients were occupied.
"Oxygen is supplied in limited amounts and all that is sent suffices just for 2-3 days. There is just too much load on the resources of government hospitals due to increasing cases and in private hospitals refilling of cylinders is not done on time," said Dr. SK Bhasin, an orthopedist in Lucknow.
Recently, the Uttar Pradesh government made doctor's prescription mandatory for buying or refilling oxygen cylinders as a measure to curb hoarding of oxygen cylinders at home. "The oxygen cylinders hoarded by hospitals and traders are being sold at higher prices. At present, there's no stock of oxygen cylinders in markets, be it in Varanasi or Lucknow. Refilling of cylinders is still possible to an extent with much hassle. Tier-3 cities are the worst sufferers since they neither have beds, nor oxygen facilities," said Priyesh Pandey, a student and a member of a joint action committee in BHU.
Pandey added that they had started the helpline to facilitate COVID-related information in April 2021 and since then have been receiving 100-120 phone calls every day for information on oxygen cylinders, beds and plasma.
The article was first published on Factchecker.