With several states flagging oxygen shortage as Covid cases surge, the government on Sunday decided to restrict oxygen supply to nine industries in an attempt to divert supplies for medical use, while prohibiting flow to other sectors.From Thursday, entities involved in refilling oxygen cylinders, pharma units, steel plants, oil refiners, wastewater treatment plants, food and water treatment, nuclear energy facilities and continuous production industries that need to keep their furnaces and processes running will be among a handful of sectors where industrial oxygen will still be available. The issue is being dealt with by an empowered group of secretaries comprising those from the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT), MSME and textiles.Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to states on Sunday saying other sectors should consider measures such as importing oxygen or setting up their own air separator units to meet requirements. He said the move was necessitated as the DPIIT suggested that demand for medical oxygen had surged to almost 60% of the daily oxygen production and was expected to rise further. Already, several states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, among others, have seen a major spike.Home secretary Ajay Bhalla said the decision was taken following discussions by the empowered group of secretaries. Over the last few days, the group of secretaries has been working closely with state governments to ensure surplus industrial-use oxygen is re-routed. As a result, a central control room has been set up which is coordinating with states and matching availability with companies.Steel companies and refineries in the eastern region are catering to requirements of states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Similarly, units in west and south India are catering to states in those regions.A steel company CEO told TOI that there were problems related to transporting oxygen as well given that liquid oxygen from the factories needs to be moved in cryogenic tankers to maintain the required temperature. While liquid oxygen can be stored in “bullets” or tanks in large hospitals that supply oxygen through pipes, but smaller ones need cylinders. As a result, bottling facilities are required.