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India: fire at hospital kills more than a dozen Covid patients

A fire in a Covid-19 hospital ward in western India has killed 18 patients, as the country grappling with the worst outbreak yet steps up a vaccination drive for all its adults even though some states say don’t have enough jabs.

Thirty-one other patients at the Welfare Hospital in Bharuch, a town in Gujarat state, were rescued by hospital workers and firefighters and their condition was stable, said police officer B.M Parmar.

The blaze and smoke killed 18 patients before they could be taken out by rescuers, Parmar said.

The fire broke out in a Covid-19 ward on the ground floor and was extinguished within an hour, Parmar said.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Series of incidents

On April 23, a fire in an intensive care unit killed 13 Covid-19 patients in the Virar area on the outskirts of Mumbai, a few days after another blaze left 22 people dead at another clinic, also in Maharashtra state.

Last month 22 other coronavirus patients died at a hospital in the same state when the oxygen supply to their ventilators was disrupted by a leak.

Faced with an unprecedented surge in cases that has filled hospitals and crematoriums, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government described the pandemic as a “once-in-a-century crisis.”

Modi held a Cabinet meeting Friday that discussed steps to save the country’s crumbling health system by adding hospital beds, resolving issues in production, storage and transport of oxygen and tackling the shortage of essential medicines.

Criticisms towards Modi for allowing gatherings

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticised for allowing massive political rallies and religious festivals which have been super-spreader events in recent weeks.

Nearly 3.5 million Indian devotees gathered in Uttarakhand in mid-March to take an annual holy dip in the Ganges to mark the colourful event, ignoring any coronavirus threat.
Millions of Indians also gathered to vote in the legislative assembly elections in four states West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Between March and April, parties held extensive rallies and crowded political campaigns.

Not enough doses for everyone

Television images showed a woman gasping for breath in her car while her family looked for a hospital bed on the outskirts of New Delhi.

The 33-year-old woman couldn’t find room at three hospitals and died in the car on Friday, The Times of India newspaper reported.

The government on Saturday shifted its faltering vaccination campaign into high gear by saying all adults 18 and over were getting their shots.

Since January, nearly 10 percent of Indians have received one dose, but only around 1.5 percent have received both, though India is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines.

Some states already said they do not have enough doses for everyone. Even the ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is stuttering.

The state of Maharashtra has said it won’t be able to start on Saturday. Satyender Jain, the health minister in the capital, New Delhi, said earlier this week that the city doesn’t have enough doses to vaccinate people between 18 and 44.

India on Friday reported another global daily record of 386,452 new cases, pushing the overall toll to more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States.

The Health Ministry also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.