Sri Lanka to procure oxygen from India to ‘augment supply’

Bilateral discussions on sourcing more oxygen under way

Sri Lanka will procure oxygen from India in the coming weeks to augment supply amid a raging fourth wave of Covid-19 in the island nation.

The government has decided to purchase 100 metric tonnes of oxygen from India next week for its COVID-19 treatment centres, the state-run Daily News reported on Saturday, quoting the Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

Official sources indicated that in additional to the initial commercial procurement, Colombo has also initiated bilateral discussions with New Delhi to explore ways to source more oxygen in the coming weeks. The details of the arrangement, likely commercial, are being worked out, they said.

According to officials in Colombo, one consignment, procured commercially from a private supplier in India, is scheduled to leave for Sri Lanka in a few days by sea. Last month, Bangladesh imported 180 metric tonnes of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) from India. In recent months, India sent consignments of oxygen to Indonesia and Nepal.

Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of its fourth wave of the pandemic, witnessing a sharp rise in daily COVID-19 cases — an average of 3,000 a day — and deaths reported in the past week.

The country has reported a total of nearly 3.5 lakh cases since last year, and 11 % of those are currently active, according to data published by the Health Promotion Bureau. While medical experts have recommended strict restrictions on mobility to combat the current spike, the government on Friday said it was not going in for a country-wide lockdown. Meanwhile the Public Health Inspectors’ Union has asked people to “self-impose a seven-day travel restriction.” (https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/amid-fourth-wave-fears-sri-lanka-to-widen-vaccine-net/article35901881.ece)

Although India was the first country to send vaccines to Sri Lanka earlier this year, New Delhi could not sustain the diplomatic outreach amid India’s devastating second wave. However, Sri Lanka has been purchasing other medical supplies from India to enhance its pandemic response. Since last month, Colombo has procured at least 4.5 million syringes from suppliers in India, according to a senior government official.

According Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director General of Health Services, the supply of oxygen within Sri Lanka, mainly from two producers, was “adequate” to cater to the current requirement. “The country is importing oxygen to augment supply and be prepared for a shortage. We should work towards being self-reliant, so that we don’t have depend on external sources. Those countries may have a sudden requirement too during such a pandemic,” Dr. Herath told The Hindu.

India faced an acute shortage of oxygen earlier this year, when several thousand lives were lost for the want of oxygen support at the right time. New Delhi obtained international assistance at the time to cope with the crisis.

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