New Delhi — At least 22 coronavirus patients who were in critical condition died at an Indian hospital on Wednesday when the oxygen supply to their ventilators was cut off for about half an hour due to a leak.
“As per the information available with us, the leakage was spotted at the oxygen tank which was supplying oxygen to these patients,” Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope told reporters. “The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the patients in the hospital.”
The incident happened at Dr Zakir Hussain Municipal Hospital, a dedicated COVID-19 treatment facility in Nashik city, Maharashtra state.
Maharashtra is India’s worst-affected state amid ainfections. There are almost 4 million coronavirus cases in the state, which is reporting more than 60,000 new infections daily.
“The pipes that connected the hospital’s ventilator system to a big oxygen tank leaked this morning,” police officer in charge of the investigation, Sajan Sonawane, told CBS News. “While the hospital staff fixed the leaks, which took about 35 minutes, the oxygen supply to the ventilators remained cut off… 22 patients are confirmed dead.”
All 22 victims were on ventilator life support. The hospital is currently treating more than 100 coronavirus patients.
The police have registered a case and begun formal investigations into the incident, Sonawane told CBS News.
“The tragedy at a hospital in Nashik because of oxygen tank leakage is heart-wrenching. Anguished by the loss of lives due to it. Condolences to the bereaved families in this sad hour,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter.
Maharashtra state is among a dozen Indian states that have sought emergency help from the federal government over acute shortages of oxygen, hospital beds, vaccines and medicines.
At least four major hospitals in India’s capital, New Delhi, also reported shortages of oxygen on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Modi’s government has faced widespread criticism in recent weeks over the shortages, with opposition parties accusing him of mismanagement, unpreparedness and insensitivity.
Uddhav Thackeray, Chief Minister of Maharashtra state, earlier claimed he had been told that Modi was busy with election campaigning in another state when he phoned his office to ask for emergency oxygen supplies.
Amid the mounting criticism, Modi addressed the nation on Wednesday night, assuring people that steps were being taken to ensure adequate supplies of oxygen, medicines, hospital beds, and vaccines.
“I want to assure you all that the government is with you,” concluded Modi.
On Wednesday, with India’s second wave showing no signs of even peaking yet, France said it would impose a 10-day mandatory quarantine for travellers arriving from India.
Fueling concern in France and elsewhere about travel from India is not only the rampantof more than 1.3 billion people, but also the spread of new strains that have emerged in the country, including a “double mutant” and, as of Wednesday, an identified “triple mutant” variant of the coronavirus.
While there has been no conclusive data gathered yet, some epidemiologists fear that, as with, these new strains could be more infectious, and possibly cause more health complications than the original virus.
India has reported 15.6 million cases and more than 182,000 COVID-19 deaths, making it the world’s second worst affected country, behind only the United States.