Italy

The Oxygen Route

Covid-19: how the life-saving gas is produced and distributed

One in twenty Covid patients require treatment with a ventilator to keep them alive. Oxygen therefore has become an essential element – the gas that manages to save those suffering with acute symptoms of the virus. But where does it come from and how does it get to where it’s needed? Extracted from the atmosphere (where it makes up 21% of air), it is transformed into 99% pure liquid oxygen by companies like Sapio and Sol, then it is transported by tanker lorry to hospitals, returned to its gaseous state and provided to the patients.

At the height of the coronavirus emergency, production in northern Italy increased dramatically, doubling and in some cases tripling. This has required production companies to ensure daily supplies of liquid oxygen to the hospitals’ storage tanks. For some pulmonary diseases that can be treated at home, two litres of oxygen a minute are sufficient, but for a Covid-19 patient in the acute phase, up to 18 litres are required.

The problems today concern those in treatment at home, patients who have been discharged from intensive care, in addition to the non-Covid patients who normally require the gas. Here the shortage concerns the actual oxygen tanks, which in difference to the gas are not infinitely available and require time to be produced.

Going without is extremely risky and can determine whether a patient survives or not. For this reason, the suppliers have launched an appeal “give us back the containers you have at home, they’re of no use empty and they could save people’s lives”.

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