Soon after the announcement of anti-pandemic prohibitory orders, people started hoarding petroleum products. There were long lines outside gas stations as vehicle owners jockeyed to fill their petrol and diesel tanks. Not just that. Many of them had brought along big jerry-cans, each soon filled brimful with fuel. Hoarding is natural human behavior in times of crisis, but also a dangerous one. For people are not just hoarding fuel. They are stocking up on vital medications. More dangerous, fearing the worst, hospitals and even some private businesses are now holding oxygen-filled cylinders.
The private suppliers of oxygen and the hospitals with their own oxygen-making plants assure that with their collective daily capacity of supplying 8,000 cylinders, they are well-placed to meet Kathmandu valley’s current demand of just under 6,000 cylinders. But they admit they could be stretched thin if the rate of infections continues to increase. And again, we are only talking about Kathmandu. Of the 185 hospitals in the country, only 26 have oxygen plants of their own, and unlike inside the valley many hospitals outside it have no dedicated source of supply.
The federal government is exploring importing at least 20,000 additional oxygen cylinders. (Apparently, oxygen production will not be a problem as much as supplying it in cylinders.) With India struggling to meet its own cylinder demand, Nepal is looking at China for fresh supplies. The pandemic is expected to peak in Nepal after around three months. The country cannot be prepared enough to forestall perhaps thousands of preventable deaths. No, this is not being alarmist. Time really has come to prepare for the worst. This includes preventing the hoarding of life-and-death substances like oxygen. The ability to pay should not decide who gets to live and who not. Right now, nothing is more important than a mechanism that ensures oxygen cylinders go to those who most need them the most.