UP Govt Says Death Certificates of COVID Victims Did Not Mention 'Lack of Oxygen' As Cause

Several media reports during the second wave of COVID-19 highlighted the massive shortage of oxygen in hospitals not just in Uttar Pradesh but several parts of the country.

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New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday told the legislative council that no death due to lack of oxygen was reported in the state during the second wave of COVID-19.

The government said the death certificates made no mention of ‘death due to lack of oxygen’ in any of the 22,915 patients that died due to the viral disease.

Replying to Congress member Deepak Singh during the Question Hour, health minister Jai Pratap Singh said, “No death has been reported in the state due to lack of oxygen during the second wave.”

Raising a supplementary question, Deepak asked whether the government had details on similar cases that were flagged by its own ministers. He asked, “Many ministers wrote letters saying deaths are taking place due to lack of oxygen in the state. Apart from this, many MPs had also made such complaints. Many incidents of deaths due to lack of oxygen had come to light. Is there any information with the government about these deaths in the entire state. Has the government not seen the dead bodies flowing in the Ganges and people suffering due to lack of oxygen?”

Giving clarification, Pratap said a doctor issues death certificate in case a hospitalised patient dies. He said there was no mention of ‘death due to lack of oxygen’ anywhere in the 22,915 death certificates that were issued by doctors for COVID-19 victims in the state.

The minister said several deaths during the pandemic were due to various other diseases, including terminal ones, and that the government had arranged oxygen from other states when there was a shortage.

People wait to fill empty cylinders with medical oxygen as demand rises due to the spike in coronavirus cases, in Lucknow, April 23, 2021. Photo: PTI/Nand Kumar

Ground reality

While the government’s claim that no death certificate mentioned ‘death due to lack of oxygen’ as the cause of death may be true, several reports during the second wave highlighted the massive shortage of oxygen in hospitals not just in Uttar Pradesh but several parts of the country.

The Wire had collated a list with the details of 223 deaths in which the hospital authorities or local administrations had confirmed oxygen shortage as the proximate cause, and another 70 deaths in which the patients’ families had alleged that the lack of oxygen was to blame but the authorities had not confirmed the allegation. The list has details of two confirmed instaces in Uttar Pradesh, both in Meerut, and two unconfirmed instances – one in Meerut and Aligarh.

In Uttar Pradesh, some hospitals had put “oxygen out of stock” boards outside, and in the state capital Lucknow, hospitals had asked patients to move elsewhere, the BBC had reported during the second wave of the pandemic. Following this, chief minister Yogi Adityanath invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against those who reported a shortage of oxygen in hospitals, calling them “anti-social” elements.

As reported by The Print, the situation in Uttar Pradesh had turned chaotic as people who were in need of oxygen were not able to get it due to a government order that prohibited the supply of oxygen to individuals. Many were also arrested for refilling oxygen for their family members who were in serious conditions. Added to that, hospitals in the state were either not accessible or full. According to the Indian Express, a government list of 96 private hospitals in Lucknow treating COVID-19 patients was of no use as the numbers were found to be switched off or unreachable.

The BJP-led Union government had earlier this year also attempted to sidestep a question regarding the number of deaths due to lack of oxygen earlier this year. In response to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the government said in July that state governments and Union Territories “did not specifically report any deaths due to lack of oxygen”.

However, a month later, it admitted Andhra Pradesh had specifically informed it of COVID-19 deaths due to lack of oxygen supply.

(With inputs from PTI)