Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday assured the States of a seamless supply of medical oxygen, even as pharmaceutical manufacturers told the government that they will ramp up production of Remdesivir injections from 36 lakh vials a month to 1 crore vials.
“Measures that the government is taking include importing medical oxygen, round-the-clock working of the oxygen filling stations and allowing containers used for nitrogen and argon to be used for oxygen,” Ms Sitharaman said.
“On meeting the phenomenal increase in demand for medical oxygen, a critical treatment tool for COVID-19, the Finance Minister assured seamless supply to States,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement after she met 150 industry leaders virtually, in an interaction hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
In a separate meeting with FICCI, she said oxygen supply has been “very neatly mapped and new permissions have been given, particularly for the hard stressed 12 States of Delhi, Maharashtra, U.P., Chhattisgarh, M.P., Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala”.
“As soon as the medical oxygen demand is met, the industry would also get the necessary supply of oxygen since the import of medical oxygen has been allowed,” she said.
Emphasising the need to ‘adopt a micro containment strategy in dealing with the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Sitharaman said India now had important tools like vaccines and medicines to deal with the pandemic, unlike last year.
She also laid out measures taken to ramp up production capacity of Remdesivir from 36 lakh vials to 78 lakh vials per month, such as rapid clearances for new capacities, stopping exports of the injection, as well as APIs and formulations used in its manufacture, and allowing export-oriented units and manufacturers located in Special Economic Zones to sell in the domestic market.
CII members that produce Remdesivir told the Finance Minister “that they were in fact working towards exceeding the committed target of 78 lakh vials per month and aiming to reach a production of 1 crore vials per month,” the Ministry statement added.
“The government has cleared an advance payment of ₹4,600 crore to Serum Institute of India and Bharat Bio Tech, to help them ramp up capacities,” Ms. Sitharaman said on the vaccination programme. The government, she said, would examine suggestions made by the industry to mitigate the impact on the economy and save livelihoods amidst the second wave of the pandemic.
CII president Uday Kotak stressed on ensuring adequate supplies of oxygen, medicines and beds in the immediate term, and called for ramping up capacity in supplies as well as medical infrastructure to address any possible future waves.
Underlining the importance of “doing whatever it takes to ramp up vaccination”, Mr. Kotak also mooted more research in the medium term to tackle the mutant versions of the novel Coronavirus and upgrade the vaccines. Ms. Sitharaman praised the Indian industry for its extreme forbearance, patience and perseverance, using the Japanese word ‘Gamanzuyoi’, according to the statement.