As the second wave of coronavirus takes its toll on the country's health system, severe crisis of oxygen cylinders in the country is likely to create an even grimmer situation.

Currently, the country has only 7,000 to 8,000 oxygen cylinders, which is almost 50 per cent less than the required number as of this afternoon. There are around 15,000 COVID patients in the country, who are in dire need of oxygen support. As of today, there are around 83,500 active cases in the country, including around 8,500 people infected with the respiratory disease today alone. Health authorities have been warning that the number of patients requiring oxygen support will rise exponentially in the next few days.

A high-level government source told THT that the issue was discussed at a meeting of the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre, an apex government body dealing with the pandemic, today. "The meeting expressed serious concern about the matter and urged the government to act promptly to purchase more oxygen cylinders," said a source who attended the meeting.

The government has been claiming that there is enough oxygen produced in the country, but the problem is transporting it to different parts of the country for want of oxygen cylinders.

Neighbouring country India is paying dearly because of lack of oxygen cylinders at present. Various media have reported that thousands of COVID patients are dying each day due to lack of oxygen. Since the government does not seem to have learned a lesson from India, COVID fatalities in the country may rise in the days to come if the situation remains the same.

Though the government has already issued two notices asking industries not to hoard oxygen cylinders and provide oxygen for hospital use, but it won't be enough to fulfil the demand.

The home minister said that it had been able to collect around 6,500 cylinders so far. It expects to collect a few more in the next few days.

"We have collected information from chief district officers of all 77 districts.

Many industries have returned oxygen cylinders, while police have been mobilised to confiscate hoarded cylinders," said home ministry Joint Secretary Janak Raj Dahal. The government has plans to distribute them to hospitals treating COVID patients.

Apart from large scale industries, jewellery shops and iron wielding centres also use oxygen. Nepal Police have been raiding even such small-scale businesses to acquire the cylinders.

Looking at the rapid increase in COVID cases, the government doesn't have any other option but to buying new cylinders. The government is planning to import 400 empty oxygen cylinders from China via air on May 10. The northern neighbour has pledged to provide 20,000 cylinders to us. Of the agreed assistance of 20,000 cylinders, 2,000 will be brought via air and the remaining 18,000 will be brought via land route, as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 9, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.