Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.. Image Source: IANS News

Chandigarh, Sep 23 : Amid apprehensions of oxygen shortages with rising coronavirus cases, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct urgent steps to ensure adequate supplies from other states, and also sought expeditious release of Rs 200 crore the state had requested as the next tranche of central aid for Covid-19 management.

With experts warning of possible aggravation of Covid conditions due to stubble burning, the Chief Minister also reiterated his demand for fiscal aid by the Centre to farmers for defraying the cost on management of paddy straw.

Though the state government is launching an aggressive media campaign to educate farmers and people in general, giving the linkage with Covid, it was imperative for the government of India to step in with the Rs 100 per quintal compensation the state has been seeking for the farmers to manage the paddy straw.

During a virtual meet with Prime Minister Modi, the Chief Minister further urged him to direct the Chief Controllers of Explosives, Nagpur, to clear the licence request for establishment of a liquid medical oxygen plant at Government Medical College, Patiala, by HLL India Ltd, under the PM Swasthya Suraksha Yojna (PMSSY).

The meeting was also attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, besides the Chief Ministers of six other states.

These seven states -- Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab, currently contributed 62 per cent of the total Covid-19 cases in the country.

The Prime Minister, while promising to look into the Chief Minister's requests, suggested that the state government should strengthen its Covid awareness efforts by involving the civil society even more aggressively and making announcements from gurudwaras and other religious places.

He expressed confidence that Punjab would be able to reduce the positivity rate to less than 5 per cent and bring down the covid fatality rate (CFR).

Noting that government and private hospitals in Punjab could end up facing shortage of medical oxygen supply due to the late surge of Covid cases, Amarinder informed the Prime Minister that with no manufacturers of medical oxygen, the state was dependent largely on three big manufacturers for liquid oxygen.

These are at Baddi (Himachal Pradesh), Dehradun (Uttarakhand) and Panipat (Haryana), but the Dehradun and Panipat plants are not supplying oxygen as per the state's demand, he said, adding that the Panipat plant can supply more oxygen if supply to Panipat refinery is curtailed.

His government, on its part, was in talks with industry to convert industrial oxygen to medical oxygen.

On the fiscal package, the Chief Minister said the government of India has released Rs 131.22 crore from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and after submitting a utilisation certificate for the whole amount, the state had requested the government of India for immediate release of Rs 200 crore, which is awaited.

Updating the Prime Minister on the state's Covid situation, Amarinder said the last 3-4 weeks had seen a surge in cases, and on an average in the past week, around 2,400-2,500 cases and around 55-60 deaths were reported daily.

The main concern, he said, was the case fatality ratio, which remains high at 2.9 per cent despite some reduction in the past one week.

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