Staunton, August 19 – Since the pandemic started, many have been worried about the trade off between protecting the population from the spread of infection without harming the economy on which their wellbeing depends. And they have noted that some steps that must taken to do the first may have a negative impact on the other.
That is especially the case when governments have ordered lockdowns or quarantines that have kept people from working or visiting stores, but it is also the case in those countries where there is little excess capacity in industries that provide the tools to fight the coronavirus. One of those is the Russian Federation.
Moscow has faced serious obstacles in producing enough covid vaccine because its domestic pharmaceutical sector is too small. It has even been forced to turn to other countries to have them manufacture the Sputnik-5 medication and then import it back into Russia for use there.
But as the focus of government attention has begun to shift from fighting infections in the general population to treating the victims of that infection in hospitals, a new and dangerous conflict between healthcare and the economy has emerged. Russia simply doesn’t produce enough oxygen, something needed both in medicine and in industry.
Moscow has purchased oxygen from abroad, most prominently from China; but it doesn’t have enough to satisfy both. And in Krasnodar Kray, oxygen shortages cutting into production. Firms there are even speaking about “a catastrophe with oxygen” (znak.com/2021-08-18/na_kubani_zavody_iz_za_deficita_kisloroda_zayavili_o_riske_ostanovki_proizvodstv).
“We cannot find liquid oxygen anywhere,” one company says on its Facebook page, “because all suppliers are forced to deliver only to hospitals.” The firm says it has sought out suppliers within a 1,000 km radius without success. It is possible, the managers say, to purchase liquid oxygen in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but only for prices five to six times higher.
The Russian industry and trade ministry as called on metallurgical companies to reduce their use of oxygen so that Moscow can provide supplies to hospitals and clinics. But the companies can do so only by cutting back on production, and apparently that is precisely what some are now being forced to do.
If such cutbacks become widespread, production in a number of key industries will fall, further depressing the Russian economy and even having an impact on employment and exports, yet other ways in which the pandemic is having baleful consequences for a country with little or no excess capacity in key sectors.