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Thursday, December 1, 2022

37 Covid patients die due to fire, oxygen leak; MVA Health Minister says ‘not national news’

13 seriously ill Covid-19 patients being burnt to death on Friday in a hospital fire in Virar, Palghar district is “not national news” as far as Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope is concerned. This begs a very basic question. If this is not, then what is? Just a couple of days before the Virar tragedy occurred, 24 Covid-19 patients lost their life on Wednesday in a Nashik government hospital due to an oxygen leak.

Vijay Vallabh COVID-19 care hospital in Virar had 90 covid patients in the hospital, 18 of them in the ICU when an explosion in the AC unit occurred. The resulting fire soon engulfed the ICU resulting in the extremely painful immolation deaths of 13 patients in their beds. The incident occurred on the second floor of the building at around 3:00 am and three fire trucks extinguished the fire by 5.30 am. 

Five women and eight men lost their lives. Five patients were rescued and shifted to other hospitals in the area. It is alleged that there were insufficient fire extinguishers at the Vijay Vallabh hospital and it did not fulfil the basic fire safety requirements. Staff members were asleep and they did not help patients come out of ICU, relatives of the deceased alleged. 

Nashik Gas Leak – Virar Fire – Health Minister Rajesh Tope in inset

On Wednesday, a leak from the main Oxygen storage tank at the Zakir Hussain municipal hospital in Nashik city interrupted piped supply to patients, with no oxygen flowing to ventilators for about 30 minutes, leading to the deaths of 24 patients. The hospital had operationalised the oxygen tank with a capacity of 13,000 litres of liquid oxygen on March 31 this year.

The survival of critically ill patients depended on the continuous flow of high-flow oxygen from the main storage tank. Bystanders and relatives noticed that the patients were not receiving oxygen and intimated the hospital staff immediately. The doctors and nurses scrambled to bring in the oxygen cylinders that saved a few but not all. Those who needed high flow oxygen started to die in front of horrified kin with doctors trying their best to revive them.

This is what one had to say,

“It was chaos as doctors and nurses tried to revive patients. Relatives rushed into the ward after hearing something had gone wrong. When we realized that the oxygen had run out, relatives including me, clamored to get these cylinders from the bedsides of patients who were being given oxygen and had died,” 

“Seeing people die in front of your eyes in less than an hour is traumatic. But I can’t get over the sight of watching people clamoring to take away oxygen cylinders from the beds of dead patients and trying to use them to revive their own loved ones. Even I tried to do that but it was of no use,” 

Maharashtra government has announced the usual probes and compensation for victims of both tragedies. It is alleged that connivance of hospital managements with corrupt officials and bureaucracy might have rendered fire, electrical, structural and other audits meaningless.

Hospitals in parts of Maharashtra are reportedly running at full capacity and doctors are forced to turn away new patients since beds and medical oxygen are at a premium. At this point, we also need to think about mental health counseling for our health professionals. They are stretched to the limit and yet forced to battle for basic necessities with a notoriously convoluted bureaucracy and inept state leadership. Many are on the verge of a breakdown. Such incidents do not help matters.

Both the Virar and the Nashik incidents were man-made and could have been totally avoided, had protocols been followed. 

These incidents are also indicative of the apathy of the corrupt regime that is managing Maharashtra. Incidentally, this is also the state where even the highest taxpayer of our country is no longer safe even in his own home. Bureaucrats and politicians manage extortion rackets that run into 100 crores per month.

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