Deficit supply of oxygen to Delhi - where 12 people died Saturday and 25 last week, because of a shortfall triggered by the second wave of coronavirus cases - must be rectified on or before midnight of May 3, the Supreme Court has told the centre.
The top court also directed the centre to work with state governments to create a buffer stock of oxygen to be used for emergency purposes, and decentralise locations of these reserves.
The directions on oxygen supply - a detailed 64-page order passed by Justices DY Chandrachud, LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, after their hearing on Friday - came as Delhi hospitals, including the Madhukar Rainbow Children's Hospital, continue to send out frantic SOSs.
Oxygen supply to the national capital has been the focus of extended hearings in the Delhi High Court also, which, on Saturday, warned the centre to ensure the city received its quota.
"Enough is enough. No one is asking for more than allocated. If you can't supply the allocation today, we will see your explanation on Monday," the High Court said.
The Arvind Kejriwal government has asked for around 970 metric tonnes of oxygen per day. The centre, however, has only allotted 590 MT (increased from 490 MT on Saturday).
On Friday, when the Supreme Court heard this matter, the centre was told it had a "special responsibility towards Delhi". The court also warned the Delhi government against "political bickering".
Delhi on Monday reported over 20,000 new Covid cases and over 400 deaths. The active caseload in the city is now a little over 96,000.
The Supreme Court on Sunday also told the centre to revisit the contentious issue of vaccine pricing and availability, as well as that of oxygen and drugs key to treating COVID-19 patients.
Like oxygen, vaccine pricing has been a controversial topic with manufacturers allowed to sell up to 50 per cent of their output to states and private hospitals - but at significantly higher prices.
The court had said the centre should adopt the national immunisation model for Covid vaccination, and that it could not allow private manufacturers to decide on allocation to states.
"Poor or marginalised sections will not go to the hospital and pay Rs 600 for vaccines. You should consider all these aspects," the court told the centre.
The centre has also been given two weeks to finalise a 'national policy on admissions to hospitals'.
The court said that till such a policy is framed no patient can be denied hospitalisation, or essential drugs, for lack of residential proof. States are bound to follow this policy once it is finalised.
These rulings come after Friday's hearing on the coronavirus crisis that has engulfed the country and left an already-battered health infrastructure on the brink of collapse.
On Sunday morning India reported over 3.92 lakh new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours. The active caseload has soared to 33.5 lakh after more than three lakh cases per day for the past week.