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COVID-19: With Rush for ICU and Oxygen, Situation Slipping Out of Hands in Tamil Nadu

The secretary of the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation, P Umanath, told Madras High Court on May 6 that the state is left with just a day’s stock of liquid medical oxygen, and the issue has reached a critical point.
COVID-19: With Rush for ICU and Oxygen, Situation Slipping Out of Hands in Tamil Nadu

Ambulances line up outside Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, Chennai awaiting beds for Covid-19 patients

The past week witnessed a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in Tamil Nadu. Like in other states, the surge in cases has led to an increased demand for hospital beds and Remdesivir injections.

The state government has expanded the health facilities to a maximum and is now running out of options to treat the increasing cases. The state even introduced 'Oxygen on Wheels', an initiative to provide medical oxygen to patients waiting outside hospitals to be admitted and allotted a bed.

But, the worrying factor is that the second wave of infections has only just made its way into the state.


covid 99

Image credit: Prakash R

The rate of daily increase of COVID-19 infection in the state has also gone up over the past week, with 24,898 fresh cases reported on May 6. Given that the daily additions crossed 20,000 only five days ago, the speed of COVID-19 spread in the state has evidently shot up.

Barring the thinly populated Ariyalur and Perambalur, all 35 districts reported more than 100 cases a day on May 6, and 6,678 cases from Chennai alone. The surge has left the state with over 1.3 lakh active reported cases and the overall case tally crossed 12.9 lakh.

The state logged 195 deaths on May 6, the highest single day tally so far, taking the cumulative death toll to 14,974. Worryingly, many victims in the second wave are reportedly under 45 years of age.


Another worrying trend is the sharp surge in the number of people getting infected and the slow rate of recovery. Both these factors are adding to the scarcity of hospital beds with each passing day.


“The real situation in Chennai is that there are no oxygen beds. I had to use my influence to get a bed in a government hospital for my friend,” said a press reporter from Chennai.

Recently the Tamil Nadu government digitised the details on availability of beds for COVID-19 patients - normal, oxygen supported and and Intensive Care Units (ICU). According to the website on May 7, all ICU beds in the five government hospitals in Chennai are taken, and oxygen supported beds are also running out.

Due to shortage of beds, ambulances began queuing up outside government hospitals in Chennai, resulting in longer waiting periods for patients.

The hospitals began providing for patients in waiting, which the government later introduced as an innovative method called 'Oxygen on Wheels' to provide medical oxygen to patients waiting outside hospitals. The state has fitted buses with oxygen concentrators for COVID-19 patients waiting outside hospitals for beds.

Also read: COVID-19, Tamil Nadu and Oxygen Demand, Where Did the State Go Wrong?

The government continues to explore means to expand the health infrastructure to meet the rising cases. The Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai is said to set up 550 additional oxygen supply lines. The state-run Stanley Medical College Hospital is also in the process of installing another 500 beds equipped with oxygen.

However,it is not known when these expansions would materialise.

Daily numbers of vaccine shots being given have also lowered. The Greater Chennai Corporation that was vaccinating more than 25,000 people on an average daily has, for the past few days, been vaccinating only around 9,000 a day.


There has been a stark increase in the consumption of medical oxygen in Tamil Nadu. The state's capacity to generate oxygen is 400 MT per day, but the statewide consumption at present is 450 MT, say government officials.

The secretary of the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation (TNMSC), P Umanath, told Madras High Court on May 6 that Tamil Nadu is left with just a day’s stock of liquid medical oxygen, and the issue has reached a critical point. If the Centre does not agree to release the required amount, starting from Saturday, May 8, the situation would worsen, he added.

As such, the Madras HC, on May 6, appealed to the Centre to take immediate steps to meet the needs of oxygen in the state.

Notably, Tamil Nadu began asking the Centre to enhance oxygen allocation to the state to 500 MT two weeks ago under a revised allocation plan.


The state government’s new set of restrictions to contain the spread of virus came into force from 4 a.m. on May 6. Public transport, railways, metro rail, public and private buses and cabs are allowed to operate at a maximum capacity of 50%.

The standalone grocery and vegetable shops are permitted to remain open till 12 noon without air conditioning facility. Only 50% customers are allowed at a time. All other shops remain closed.

The big format shops in an area of 3,000sq ft and above, shopping complexes and malls have already been prohibited to function since April 26.

Police are sealing those shops violating these norms.

All social, political, sports, entertainment, academic and cultural gathering in open and closed spaces continue to be prohibited.

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