Centre seeks Isro’s help to tide over oxygen shortage arising from covid wave

New Delhi: To help the country tide over the oxygen crisis, the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) has been roped in by the Union government to help cope with the severe scarcity as the second pandemic wave rages across the country.

In May 2020, the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) at Thumba under Isro had come up with three different ventilator models. Of these, two are undergoing tests. Isro also procures oxygen from the industry for its cryogenic engines, which use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel.

“We started working on ventilators last year when the covid-19 pandemic hit the country. But later on, the work on ventilators slowed because the covid-19 cases started falling. Our ventilator machines are undergoing clinical trials, which may take some time. But in the current scenario we will expedite trials for making these machines available as soon as possible,” said a senior scientist at VSSC, requesting anonymity.

The Centre has reached out to Isro for help with solving the pressing problem against the backdrop of the lack of oxygen now leading to fatalities at hospitals.

“The Union government has reached out to Isro if it can help in combating the ongoing second wave of covid-19 pandemic. The biggest problem currently is the shortage of oxygen, which is more an issue of logistics. Isro itself procures oxygen from the industry whenever it needs. We are trying to figure out how we can help the central government in this area,” said a senior official in the department of space, who also did not want to be named.

From mentoring startups to launching satellites, Isro is not new to challenges, given the expertise it developed in the wake of sanctions in areas such as cryogenic technology.

Senior officials at the Union ministry of health and family welfare did not immediately comment on the development.

Isro is also providing geospatial tools and location-based solutions o help the fight against covid-19 virus. The efforts include a national level coronavirus tracker, wherein Isro’s National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) customized its geoportal and developed ‘Bhuvan-COVID-19’ at the national level to track the pandemic and provide public updates on the current situation.

India’s coronavirus patient numbers have been spiking, overwhelming the country’s fragile healthcare system. With lack of beds and medicines in the hospitals, dearth of oxygen supplies reflects a new low in the country’s inadequate health infrastructure, as bodies keep piling.

Beside weather forecasts, Isro’s space technology applications have been leveraged across sectors such as railways, road and bridge construction, agriculture sector, housing, telemedicine and disaster management.

Besides, the railways have started running oxygen express trains, and the Indian Air Force aircraft have been pressed into service to reduce travel time of oxygen carrying tankers.

The central government on Thursday directed states to ensure free movement of vehicles carrying oxygen amid reports of some states diverting the vehicles for local use even as hospitals sent out frantic appeals for emergency supplies.

The home ministry invoked the stringent Disaster Management Act 2005, an emergency measure, to direct states to ensure the movement of oxygen tanks without any restriction of timings or other restraints. An Empowered Group-II (EG-II) for covid management, a panel tasked with coordinating medical logistics, has also recommended that the supply of oxygen for industrial use be prohibited from 22 April till further orders. Nine specified industries have been exempted.

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