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News Article

Oxygen Tank Shortages and an Upcoming Third COVID-19 Wave

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 04/05/2021 - 17:22

After the Christmas Holidays of 2020, Mexico faced a second COVID-19 wave of contagion as gatherings to celebrate the holidays took place, regardless of the authorities petitions to remain home. Consequently, this second wave of contagion caused an oxygen tank shortage. Black markets, overpricing and violence surrounding this supply became a reality. In January 2021, Mexico reported 30,000 COVID-19-related deaths, its largest death toll in a month. By the end of February, the country reached the third highest death toll globally.

According to a NYT report, “part of the reason why so many people are dying now, doctors and government officials say, is shortages: there simply are not enough oxygen tanks.” Zoé Robledo, Director General of IMSS, explained that on Dec. 24, 2020, the government launched a program so COVID-19 patients in recovery and with mild symptoms could end their recovery process at home to free beds for more serious cases. This, however, was affected by a shortage of tanks, as oxygen is still required at home.

The NYT report states that eight out of 10 hospital beds are occupied in Mexico City, the epicenter of the outbreak, and emergency rooms are not receiving people. Moreover, many patients refuse to seek medical attention, as a result of mistrust in Mexico’s health system. The same report shared that during the first weeks of January, oxygen tank demand in the country increased by 700 percent. The international NGO Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) shared that, at the global level, low and middle-income countries needed 1.63m3 of oxygen per day, while Mexico required 716,807m3 of oxygen daily.

Black market activities surrounding oxygen tanks took over the country during the first two months of this year. People were being sold industrial or unapproved oxygen tanks instead of medical tanks. Stolen equipment or frauds via social medica were also common. During that period, head of PROFECO Ricardo Sheffield said that the government was negotiating the import of oxygen tanks from the US. However, the latter country’s own demand was still high, making local supply a priority. Sheffield said orders from China would take months to arrive, so he encouraged the three local providers of oxygen tanks, Infra, Medigas and Criogas, to donate their production and to prioritize medical oxygen production over industrial oxygen.

Authorities throughout the country warned the population about spring break activities, asking citizens to remain home and to follow all safety measures to avoid COVID-19 contagion. Health authorities also called on tourist destinations to implement restrictive measures to avoid conglomerations. States like Yucatan, Campeche and Baja California did impose some restrictions but Easter week seemed to erase COVID-19 from tourists’ minds. Several media outlets reported how the most common holiday destinations in Mexico were crowded. In fact, the Governor of Quintana Roo, one of the country’s leading touristic hubs, just reported that Tulum registered a 200 percent spike in COVID-19 cases, while Bacalar and the Solidaridad municipalities reported a 50 percent and 40 percent increase, respectively.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst