May 17. 2021. 5:44

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Fire kills 13 Covid patients in hospital in western India

A worker wearing personal protection equipment loads wood onto a cart at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi on Friday. Bodies piling up at crematoriums and burial grounds across India are sparking concerns that the death toll from a ferocious new Covid-19 wave may be much higher than official records. Photograph: Bloomberg


Thirteen Covid-19 patients have been killed after fire broke out at a hospital in western India.

The blaze at the Vijay Vallabh hospital in the Virar area on the outskirts of Mumbai occurred two days after 24 Covid-19 patients on ventilators died due to an oxygen leak in a hospital in Nashik, another city in Maharashtra state.

The fire on the second floor intensive care unit was extinguished and some patients requiring oxygen were moved to nearby hospitals, said Dilip Shah, the chief executive of the Vijay Vallabh hospital.

The official said there were 90 patients in the hospital, about 70km north of Mumbai, India’s financial capital. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that an explosion in the air conditioning system of the intensive care unit preceded the blaze.

The incident comes amid a massive surge in Covid cases in Maharashtra state, the worst-hit in the country.

A total of 314,835 infections reported on Thursday raised India’s coronavirus total past 15.9 million cases since the pandemic began.

It is the second-highest infection total in the world, next to the United States. India’s overall death toll stands at 184,657, according to the health ministry.

Fatalities rose by 2,104 in the past 24 hours, raising India’s overall death toll to 184,657, the health ministry said.

A large number of hospitals are reporting acute shortages of beds and medicine and are running on dangerously low levels of oxygen.

The New Delhi High Court ordered the government to divert oxygen from industrial use to hospitals to save people’s lives.

“You can’t have people die because there is no oxygen. Beg, borrow or steal, it is a national emergency,” the judges said, responding to a petition by a New Delhi hospital seeking the court’s intervention.

The government is rushing oxygen tankers to replenish supplies to hospitals.

Indian health minister Harsh Vardhan said “demand and supply is being monitored round the clock”.

He said in a tweet that to address the exponential spike in demand, the government has increased the quota of oxygen for the seven worst-hit states.

Lockdowns and strict curbs have been imposed in New Delhi and other cities.

In scenes repeated across the country, ambulances rush from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed, while grieving relatives line up outside crematoriums where the number of dead bodies has jumped several times.

Dr Sanjay Gururaj, a doctor at Bengaluru-based Shanti Hospital and Research Centre, said: “I get numerous calls every day from patients desperate for a bed. The demand is far too much than the supply.

“I try to find beds for patients every day, and it’s been incredibly frustrating to not be able to help them. In the last week, three patients of mine have died at home because they were unable to get beds. As a doctor, it’s an awful feeling.”

The main cremation ground at Lucknow, the state capital, received nearly 200 bodies on Sunday.

In Kanpur, also in Uttar Pradesh, 35 temporary platforms have been set up on Bithoor-Sidhnath Ghat along the Ganges River to cremate bodies.

The health ministry said that of the country’s total production of 7,500 metric tonnes of oxygen per day, 6,600 metric tonnes is being allocated for medical use.

It also said that 75 railroad coaches in the Indian capital have been turned into hospitals providing an additional 1,200 beds for Covid-19 patients. – PA