Covid: Govt denies receiving report of deaths due to oxygen crisis
The government told the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that it had not received any report of patients dying because of shortage of oxygen and lack of hospital facilities during the second wave of the pandemic from any state or Union Territory.
What the government left unsaid was that it had not sought this information from the states and Union Territories.
The matter-of-fact statement aimed at tamping down the widespread despair over lack of oxygen during the second wave of Covid-19 had the opposite effect as it brought back to mind the stark images of patients gasping for breath in ambulances, hospital corridors and cars.
The Union government’s claim that there was no report of any death owing to oxygen shortage was the response provided by the health ministry in the Rajya Sabha to two separate questions on the issue — one from Congressman K.C. Venugopal and another from M.V. Shreyams Kumar of the Loktantrik Janata Dal.
Responding to a question on the number of patients who died because of shortage of oxygen and lack of hospital facilities in the country, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said: “Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths have been issued by Union health ministry to all states/UTs. Accordingly, all states/UTs report cases and deaths to Union health ministry on a regular basis. However, states have at times reported backlog deaths in case of late reporting from hospitals and districts but no such reports of patients dying due to shortage of oxygen and lack of hospital facilities in the country have been received by the ministry from any State/UT.’’
The minister was technically correct as the states were never asked by the Union health ministry to compile data on oxygen deaths. The state governments were only asked to tabulate Covid deaths and not register them as cardiac or nephrology case if the deceased person had tested positive.
The written response by the ministry overshadowed the four-hour-long discussion on Covid in the Rajya Sabha. Given the gravity of the situation, the Opposition called a ceasefire on their protests over the snooping controversy and agreed to the discussion that was followed by the health ministry briefing to MPs on the pandemic in the Parliament annexe. The Congress, RJD and Left parties stayed away from the briefing as did the Aam Aadmi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal; insisting that the government should be providing these details on the floor of the House when Parliament is in session and not outside.
Through the debate in the Rajya Sabha, several Opposition MPs accused the government of making former health minister Harsh Vardhan the fall guy for the follies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in handling the pandemic and also vaccine management. The government’s perennial self-congratulatory mode also came in for sharp criticism.
In a particularly sharp critique, RJD’s Manoj Jha said: “People who died in Covid have left a living document about the failed system. We have witnessed undignified deaths. Why are we not talking about right to health as part of right to life? Also there should be right to work.’’
Replying to the debate, Mandaviya urged all parties not to indulge in politics over the pandemic; adding that collective resolve and Prime Minister Modi’s guidance can help the nation ward off a third wave.
He also contested leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge’s charge that the Modi government has not been furnishing correct data, asserting that the Centre has not tampered with data on either the number of Covid cases or deaths.