KARACHI: Despite a sudden and rapid increase in coronavirus cases in the city over the last couple of weeks, the demand for oxygen cylinders — essentially required for Covid-19 patients in critical condition — appeared normal so far as the main medical market of vital medical supplies has not witness panic buying of oxygen.
“The Lucky Star medical market would have run out of oxygen cylinder stocks and the prices would have hit the ceiling had there been an unprecedented demand. A wide gap between demand and supply would definitely have caused shortage of oxygen, hence panic,” shopkeepers said, adding that no panic among suppliers and stockists of oxygen cylinders in the market was being witnessed either.
On the other hand, people of almost all ages have started making a beeline at various hospitals and different community centres for coronavirus vaccination.
A number of shopkeepers have put on display oxygen cylinders of various capacities inside and outside their shops, but the outlets lacked any hustle and bustle of buyers.
Refuting media reports regarding increase in prices by Rs2,000-4,000 for a five-litre oxygen cylinder, the shopkeepers said that the price of a small cylinder had risen by just Rs200 whereas that of 10 litre by Rs500.
Demand in Punjab
“Coronavirus crisis does not loom in Karachi. An upward trend in the prices is being witnessed in Punjab. Oxygen cylinders in large numbers find their way into the biggest province from Karachi,” the shopkeepers said adding that even the refilling rates there had gone up.
“I have shipped 400 cylinders of five-litre capacity last week to a buyer in Punjab and further demand is coming up,” a shopkeeper told Dawn.
Punjab has so far been the worst-hit province owing to rising coronavirus cases which forced the Punjab government on Wednesday to impose a complete lockdown from May 8-16.
119 deaths in a day
According to the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), the country reported 4,113 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours taking total cases to 841,636 so far.
With 119 deaths within the last 24 hours, the total fatalities so far have reached 18,429, it was stated on Wednesday.
With 310,616 virus cases in Punjab, the total number of deaths in the biggest province was put at 8,741.
Cases in Sindh stands at 287,643 followed by 121,099 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 76,696 in Islamabad, 22,776 in Balochistan, 17,397 in Azad Kashmir, and 5,341 in Gilgit-Baltistan.
A total of 4,687 people in Sindh lost their lives followed by 3,466 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 239 in Balochistan, 698 in Islamabad, 491 in Azad Kashmir, and 107 in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Cylinder rates and quality
Coming back to the Lucky Star market, another shopkeeper said a five-litre brand new Chinese cylinder costs Rs8,000-8,500 while a used one sells at Rs6,500-7,000.
A 10-litre used cylinder costs Rs9,500 while a new Chinese one is priced at Rs14,000.
The refilling charges for each five-litre and 10-litre cylinder are Rs400 and Rs500, respectively, he added.
The new Chinese cylinders carry production date while many cylinders are available with no date, the shopkeeper said, and advised that consumers must see the date before purchasing a cylinder.
Some unscrupulous elements were also repainting old cylinders to give them a fresh look and selling it in the market at new one’s price, he warned.
Oxygen production in Pakistan
Pakistan produces around 800 tonnes of oxygen every day and some 550 tonnes of the total production is currently being consumed by the country’s healthcare system.
Officials and industry sources said that five major producers in Pakistan enjoyed the monopoly with more than 95 per cent of the total oxygen production and all of them were mainly supplying their product to healthcare facilities across the country.
“Currently hospitals are consuming a huge chunk of the total oxygen production,” said a source privy to the industry.
“However, we are comfortable at this point of time. We are meeting the demand and have capacity to face the current challenge. But obviously if the cases continue to rise, there can be a shortage or you can say we may face a crisis. The producers at the same time are trying to increase their production capacity, but that process requires time and investment.”
Steel Mill oxygen plant
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), meanwhile, has asked the government to explore alternative options and expedite its efforts towards increasing oxygen production in the wake of increase in the number of Covid-19 cases.
“The government should immediately intervene to revive the oxygen plant at the Pakistan Steel Mill,” said PMA secretary general Dr Qaiser Sajjad.
“Our health system is on the edge and we can’t afford any delay.”
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021