Jordan opens trial over Covid-19 ward oxygen cut deaths

Eleven health officials appeared in court on Sunday to plead not guilty over seven deaths in Al Salt

Eleven health officials accused of unintentionally causing the deaths of seven hospital patients when oxygen supplies ran out, pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial on Sunday.

Nathir Obeidat resigned as health minister in the wake of the incident on March 13.

The fatalities occurred in a ward treating Covid-19 patients  at a state hospital in the city of Al Salt, after oxygen supplies cut out for around 30 minutes.

Intensive care and maternity units at the facility were also affected by the lack of oxygen, but there were no reports of fatalities on those wards.

The incident  led to protests at the time and anti-government demonstrations last week, amid national anger at the deaths.

Jordanian authorities responded by using tear gas against demonstrators and arresting dozens of mostly young people across the kingdom.

The 11 defendants who appeared in an Amman civilian court on Sunday asked to be granted bail but were denied, state television reported.

Two other defendants in the case were not present at the hearing on Sunday because they have tested positive for Covid-19, state television said.

Initially, the authorities said six people had died, before upping the toll to nine, and then lowering it to seven.

If found guilty, the accused could face jail terms ranging from six months to three years for each death they are found to have caused.

The next session of the trial is scheduled for March 31.

The prosecution is expected to start calling witnesses soon.

Among the defendants are senior Health Ministry employees, including the minister's immediate subordinate, several hospital officials and the health director for the Balqa province, where the hospital is located.

King Abdullah blamed negligence for the cause of the deaths.

He replaced Mr Obeidat a week after he replaced the interior and justice ministers, in response to another virus-related scandal.

Both men were seen defying their own Covid-19 control measures at a popular eatery in Amman.

But the king made it clear in a meeting with officials last week that he would not be replacing the government, which he appointed in October amid a virus surge. It is Jordan's 12th government in the past 20 years.

Deaths from the coronavirus have been averaging 90 to 100 per day this month, a relatively heavy toll in the country of 10 million people.

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