India Hospital Fire Kills 18 COVID-19 Patients

May 1, 2021 Updated: May 2, 2021

NEW DELHI—A fire in a COVID-19 hospital ward in western India killed 18 patients early on May 1, as the country is grappling with the worst outbreak yet.

The same day, India set yet another daily global record with 401,993 new cases, taking its tally to more than 19.1 million. Another 3,523 people died in the past 24 hours, raising the overall fatalities to 211,853, according to the Health Ministry. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

The fire broke out in a COVID-19 ward on the ground floor of the Welfare Hospital in Bharuch, a town in Gujarat state, and was extinguished within an hour, police said. The cause is being investigated.

Thirty-one other patients were rescued from the blaze by hospital workers and firefighters and their condition was stable, police officer B.M. Parmar said. Late last month, a fire in an intensive care unit killed 13 COVID-19 patients in the Virar area, on the outskirts of Mumbai.

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Charred furniture and other items are seen after a deadly fire at the Welfare Hospital in Bharuch, western India, on May 1, 2021. (Viral Rana/AP Photo)

India’s capital extended its week-old lockdown by another week to curb the explosive surge in virus cases, Arvind Kejriwal, a top elected official said on Twitter.

All shops and factories will remain closed until May 9, except for those that provide essential services such as grocery stores. People are not supposed to leave their homes, except for a handful of reasons like seeking medical care or going to the airport or railroad stations. Daily wage earners and small businesses are expected to suffer a further blow to their livelihoods.

Separately, 12 COVID-19 patients, including a doctor, on high-flow oxygen died May 1 at a hospital in New Delhi after it ran out of the supply for 80 minutes, said S.C.L. Gupta, director of Batra Hospital. Gupta said the hospital has been facing irregular oxygen supply from manufacturers for more than a week, but it exhausted it completely for the first time.

He said the hospital tank was refilled with enough oxygen for 12 hours and it will again be looking for replenishment.

The New Delhi television news channel also said an attorney for the Batra hospital complained to a New Delhi court that is hearing petitions by several hospitals on the issue.

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Damaged equipment and furniture are seen in the burnt interior of a hospital treating COVID-19 patients, after a deadly fire, in India’s western Gujarat state, on May 1, 2021. (ANI/ Reuters TV via Reuters)

Hospitals in the Indian capital have been complaining of emergencies caused by irregular oxygen supplies from manufacturers due to the sudden rise in demand caused by the massive spike in infections.

Faced with an unprecedented COVID-19 surge 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 on April 30 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.

In a now-familiar scene, 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 April 30, The Times of India newspaper reported.

The United States has joined a growing list of countries restricting travel from India, the White House said, citing the devastating rise in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants.

The U.S. also began delivering therapeutics, rapid virus tests, and oxygen to India last week, along with some materials needed for India to boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines.

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In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Fernando Beltran secures oxygen cylinders to a pallet at Travis Air Force Base in California, on April 28, 2021. (Nicholas Pilch/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Additionally, a CDC team of public health experts was expected to be on the ground soon to help Indian health officials try to slow the spread of the virus.

Other nations have also sent assistance, and the Indian air force airlifted oxygen containers from Singapore, Dubai, and Bangkok.

A German military aircraft with 120 ventilators departed for India on May 1, and plans were being made for other flights with more supplies. Also on board was a team of 13 that will help prepare to set up a mobile oxygen production unit that will be flown to India next week, the German news agency dpa said.

Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.