A hospital fire that occurred in western India on April 23 killed at least 15 patients infected with the Wuhan coronavirus. The blaze at a hospital in Maharashtra state followed an earlier mishap two days earlier, in which an oxygen leak killed more than 20 COVID-19 patients. Both incidents occurred amid an ongoing second wave of coronavirus infections in India, which saw shortages of much-needed medical supplies and record highs in the number of daily case counts.
According to a report by India Today, the fire began on April 23 at around 3:15 a.m. Vivekanand Kadam, chief of the Disaster Control Cell for Palghar district, said an explosion of an air-conditioning unit on the second floor of the Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Maharashtra’s Virar city preceded the blaze. Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire by 5:30 a.m.
Maharashtrian authorities reported that there were 90 patients confined in the facility, with 18 in intensive care. Authorities initially reported that 13 perished in the fire, but later increased it to 15 after two victims confined in different hospitals eventually succumbed to their injuries. The incident is now under investigation, according to local media reports.
In relation to the incident, law enforcement took two hospital officials into custody. Officers from the Mira Bhayandar-Vasai-Virar Police Commissionerate arrested Vijay Vallabh Hospital CEO Dr. Dilip Shah and Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Shailesh Pathak on April 25. The Times of India reported that police would present the two hospital officials before the Vasai court later that day.
The April 23 fire happened two days after an oxygen leak on April 21 left more than 20 COVID-19 patients dead. An oxygen tank leak at the Dr. Zakir Hussain Hospital in Mumbai’s Nashik district, also in Maharashtra, instantly killed 24 patients due to the subsequent deprivation of oxygen supply. Nashik Divisional Commissioner Radhakrishna Game said that the “socket of the [main] oxygen tank broke, which led to leakage … and diminished oxygen supply to patients.”
The Indian Express reported that Game confirmed the initial 22 fatalities in the April 21 incident at Nashik. Two more patients died later that day, bringing the total fatalities to 24.
Maharashtra State Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray described the incident at Nashik as “shocking and painful.” He promised a thorough investigation into the matter, assembling a seven-member panel to probe the Nashik tragedy. “Those responsible will not be spared,” Thackeray said.
The state’s Minister of Health Rajesh Tope commented that the Nashik divisional commissioner will helm the seven-member panel. He also added that a standard operating procedure for the management of oxygen plants and storage tankers would be drawn up. “If anyone is responsible for the deaths [at Nashik], they will face legal action,” Tope warned.
Thackeray also announced that the families of those who died at Nashik will receive 500,000 Indian rupees ($6,681). The state’s Minister of Food and Civil Supply Chhagan Bhujbal also said the Nashik Municipal Corporation will give an additional 500,000 Indian rupees ($6,681) to the victims’ families as compensation. Nashik Municipal Corporation operates the Dr. Zakir Hussain Hospital.
Thackeray also ordered an investigation into the Virar fire. He directed officials to ensure that other patients’ treatments would not be interrupted. Furthermore, Thackeray also directed an inquiry as to whether the Vijay Vallabh Hospital was adequately equipped in terms of fire safety. According to the Maharashtra state government, relatives of those who died at the Virar blaze will receive 500,000 Indian rupees ($6,681). Meanwhile, those injured will receive 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,336) as compensation.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences toward the relatives of those who died at the Virar blaze. An April 23 tweet from Modi’s office said: “The fire at a COVID-19 hospital in Virar is tragic. Condolences to those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover soon.” The prime minister’s office also approved compensation of 200,000 Indian rupees ($2,627) each for the victims’ next of kin, and 50,000 Indian rupees ($668) for those seriously injured. Modi also expressed his condolences toward the families of those who died at Nashik, alongside other officials.
The incidents at Virar and Nashik happened amid a second wave of COVID-19 infections in India which brought the country’s healthcare system to its knees. On April 24, the Hindu-majority country recorded a new high of 346,786 daily COVID-19 cases. It surpassed the highest single-day record previously held by the U.S. at 297,430 new infections.
The country’s health authorities also reported almost 2,100 fatalities on April 22. However, this number appears to be inconsistent with actual numbers from mass cremation sites. Due to the overwhelming number of fatalities, mass burning sites were already established in response to overcrowded crematoriums.
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