Authorities are facing outrage after a “shocking incident” in which an oxygen leak led to the deaths of at least 22 COVID-19 patients in a hospital dubbed the “ward of death”.
Devastating stories are emerging after frantic family members attempted to help the seriously ill COVID-19 patients who were reportedly “gasping for breath”.
Local authorities in Nashik, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, say 60 patients were left without oxygen for approximately 30 minutes after their critical supply was interrupted.
At least 11 men and 11 women have died. At the time of the incident, 157 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital, of whom 67 were on ventilator.
“We want strict action against the culprits,” Amol Vyavhare, whose grandmother was one of the patients who died due to a lack of oxygen, told the BBC.
It comes as India has registered record daily cases and deaths with the country struggling to contain outbreaks, forcing residents in Maharashtra and the capital, Delhi, back into lockdown. Overnight it reached 2000 deaths in just 24 hours amid warnings multiple variants of the virus could be circulating.
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Latest data shows there had been 295,041 new infections nationwide overnight and 2,023 deaths, India’s highest in the pandemic.
“The corona crisis has plunged the country into a vicious cycle,” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in a statement obtained by news.com.au overnight.
“Patients are dying. The news of the accident of oxygen leakage in Nashik Municipal Hospital is shocking.”
Authorities say in the latest incident, an oxygen truck meant to be resupplying the hospital struck a leak and interrupted the flow to ventilators, causing the deaths.
It is unclear who or what caused the incident but India’s Times Now referred to the hospital, about 200 kilometres north of Mumbai, as the “ward of death”.
Meanwhile Indian media have reported similar problems in other hospitals around the country with the issue now hitting the courts in terrifying detail.
On Tuesday, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted despairingly, pleading for oxygen supplies and warning some hospitals had “just hours” left.
Oxygen tankers arrived just in time at several hospitals late Tuesday but supplies remained tight and reports said deliveries were being held up in neighbouring Haryana state.
The country is said to be at breaking point as hospitals struggle to keep up with demand and patients report waiting days for access to ventilators.
“Normally we would shift some patients to other hospitals … none in the city have spare oxygen,” NDTV quoted one doctor in the state as saying.
“Most of the patients are being sent back because we don’t have enough of this oxygen and remdesivir drug to treat the patients,” said Harish Krishnamachar, associate dean of the Ramaiah Medical College Hospital in Bangalore.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the event at the hospital as “heart-wrenching”, but with crematoriums overworked, he called on Indians to step up their efforts to battle the coronavirus so that fresh lockdowns are not necessary.
In his first address since the start of the record-breaking new wave of infections, Mr Modi acknowledged that India’s 1.3 billion people were “once again fighting a big fight”.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said a thorough probe would be investigated over the leak.
“It is yet to be ascertained if the leakage from the oxygen tank was caused by negligence or it was the issue of workmanship. The incident will be probed thoroughly,” the minister said.
Victims’ families will also be compensated.
COUNTRY IN CRISIS
There had been hopes that despite its packed cities and poor health care, India had managed to escape largely unscathed from a pandemic that has killed more than three million people around the world.
Recent weeks have seen mass gatherings, including millions attending the Kumbh Mela religious festival, as well as political rallies, lavish weddings and cricket matches against England.
Production of key coronavirus drugs slowed or even halted at some factories and there were delays inviting bids for oxygen generation plants, according to press reports.
Distraught relatives are now being forced to pay exorbitant rates on the black market for medicines and oxygen and WhatsApp groups are white-hot with desperate pleas for help.
“I am scared for my parents and relatives more than I am scared for myself because they are not young anymore and getting admitted into a hospital right now is next to impossible,” one Delhi resident told AFP.
In total India has recorded 15.6 million cases, second only to the US, and more than 180,000 deaths, though it is behind many countries on a per capita basis.
— with AFP