Lopez: There is more than enough supply of medical oxygen, warns hoarders

Published August 4, 2021, 3:56 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez has assured the public that there is more than enough supply of medical oxygen (O2) to quell panic, even raising the potential of allowing more importation and a stern warning against hoarding. 

“Current industry capacity is about 3 times more than the current demand.  There is a surplus from the producers side.   The current capacity surplus includes both the medical and industrial oxygen capacity, and the latter can also be allocated to produce medical oxygen if and when necessary,” said Lopez in a message to reporters covering the agency. 

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez. (ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO FILE PHOTO)

Based on the PH Medical Oxygen Supply and Demand Situationer provided by the DTI, there are 603 tons per day (TPD) of combined current capacity, including 205 TPD of medical O2 production, 271 TPD of industrial O2, and excess 127 TPD, from four producers — Ingasco Inc., Air Liquide, Linde, and MMGC. 

The current production capacity can still absorb 3 times more of current average number of COVID cases, he pointed out.

In a worse case scenario, Lopez said, industrial oxygen capacity can also be used for medical oxygen. 

Lopez explained that the queuing for medical oxygen “happens when there’s a sudden increase in demand for cylinder tanks in specific areas.” But he added that deployment of cylinder tanks should eventually follow where the demand is. 

In fact, Lopez said there is a surplus on the production side of oxygen and producers have not increased their prices.  Earlier, the Department of Health (DOH) has imposed a suggested retail price for medical oxygen. 

Since there is no reason for panic and unnecessary queuing, Lopez warned against the possibility of hoarding. “Hoarding especially at this time is a crime and our economic intelligence team will run after erring distributors or refillers,” said Lopez.  

He cited industry report that the current 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.  

When asked if he will recommend importation of medical oxygen to avert further surge in demand, Lopez said “Yes possible.”

As early as May this year, Lopez has already also asked the Department of Health to procure and stockpile oxygen cylinder tanks, regulators, vacuum insulated evaporators, and ISO tanks. DTI has also recommended that tanks must also be installed and prepositioned at all hospitals in case the Delta variant will cause a surge. The DTI “Presented it to IATF and also talked to Secretary Francisco Duque. They’re on it,” he added.

To ensure unhampered delivery of O2 to hospitals and distribution centers,  the DTI has also pushed for the exemption of all vehicles carrying medical oxygen from the truck bans imposed by local government units. 

The DTI has also suggested to secure steady power supply for medical oxygen producers. Power interruptions can cause the shutdown of O2 plants that require almost one day to re-start to normal operations.

The DTI also saw the need to exempt oxygen cargo from load limits to ensure continuous supply in island provinces. The DTI suggested this measure because of the 18-ton weight limit for shipping ISO LOX tanks. 

Aside from that, the DTI has also encouraged oxygen manufacturers to expand their current capacities. Manufacturers of this critical medical product is part of sectors incentivized under CREATE Act. 

Lopez earlier cited of two medical oxygen producers coming in. To facilitate processing for new medical O2 facilities as soon as possible, the DTI has called for faster Food and Drugs Administration processing.  Because of more than enough local capacity, Lopez even said that some local producers were able to provide oxygen supply to Indonesia, which experienced surge in Delta variant cases.