Nationwide oxygen supply, prices stable — DTI

PHILSTAR/THE FREEMAN

OXYGEN prices and supply have remained stable amid growing household demand for cylinder tanks, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said.

“Based on report from industry, for now, the increase in demand for cylinder tanks is coming more from the households trying to buy for their personal need, either current or potential emergency need,” he told reporters in a Viber message on Wednesday.

The industry capacity is three times more than the current demand, he said, noting a surplus in both medical and industrial capacity.

“There is a surplus on the production side of oxygen, per se. And the producers have not increased their prices.”

The government has issued suggested retail prices for medical devices, including oxygen tanks, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Demand for oxygen has increased in Cebu City, the most populated urban hub in central Philippines, amid a spike in cases.

“The queueing happens when there’s a sudden increase in demand for cylinder tanks in specific areas; and cylinder tanks deployment should eventually follow where the demand is,” Mr. Lopez said.

“Hoarding especially at this time is a crime and our economic intelligence team will run after erring distributors or refillers.”

REGULATION
In Cebu, Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia has issued an order regulating the sale of medical oxygen starting Aug. 4 to halt the ongoing “panic buying” and ensure sufficient supply in healthcare facilities across the province.

The order does not cover the independent city of Cebu, which serves as the provincial center where there has recently been a significant increase in hospitalizations for coronavirus patients.

Cebu City is currently under the strictest quarantine level while the province is under the most relaxed category. However, in line with the “one island” policy of the provincial government, movement across the city’s borders are not restricted.

“There is a need to immediately regulate the sale by manufacturers and dealers of Medical Oxygen so that the same may only be sold to hospitals and/or persons who are in real need of them,” reads part of Executive Order No. 36-2021 issued Tuesday night.

“If the sale and purchase of Medical Oxygen will not be regulated, the panic buying… might cause a shortage,” it said.

Ms. Garcia said in her order that medical oxygen manufacturers and suppliers in the province have given assurance that “there is sufficient supply” and they can convert industrial oxygen supply for medical use should the need arise.

The provincial government, in a statement, said the regulation would prevent “people who would take advantage by reselling it at a higher price that could affect the supply of medical oxygen supply for hospitals.”

Under the regulation, individuals purchasing medical oxygen will have to present a doctor’s prescription and will be limited to 20-pound tanks at a maximum of five tanks.

As of Aug. 3, Cebu province had 3,187 active coronavirus cases while Cebu City had 3,054, based on date from the Department of Health-Central Visayas regional office. The two other independent cities in the province, Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue, had 1,286 and 1,139, respectively.

CAPACITY
Mr. Lopez also said he has asked the Health department to procure and stockpile oxygen cylinder tanks and encouraged oxygen manufacturers to expand capacity in case of a surge caused by the more transmissible Delta variant.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) data shows that four oxygen producers in the country have a combined capacity of 603 tons per day. While just 205 tons of this is for medical use, industrial oxygen capacity can be shifted to medical use in a worst-case scenario.

To ensure continuous oxygen supply, the department recommended stockpiling the needed goods, exempt oxygen delivery from truck bans, ensure steady power supply for oxygen plants, exempt oxygen cargo from port load limits, and faster processing of new medical oxygen facilities.

New producer Cryogenics Gases will start operations in Butuan City in southern Philippines by the end of the year, Mr. Lopez said earlier this year, noting that domestic suppliers should be preferred in government procurement.

Meanwhile, national police chief Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar said they will investigate the possible hoarding of oxygen tanks and other medical supplies in the country, especially in the capital region Metro Manila and Cebu City.

“The PNP (Philippine National Police) and DTI will coordinate and work together to look into the reported hoarding of oxygen tanks, especially in Cebu City,” Mr. Eleazar said in Filipino in a news release on Wednesday. — Jenina P. Ibanez, Bianca Angelica D. Anago, and Marifi S. Jara