Jordan's health minister forced out of government after seven Covid-19 patients die from lack of oxygen

Post mortem examinations on four of the patients showed deaths caused by severe lack of oxygen

Seven coronavirus patients died on Saturday after a medical oxygen outage at the main government hospital in the Jordanian city of Al Salt.

The deaths prompted health minister Nazir Obeidat to resign. Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh said Mr Obeidat, a professor of medicine, was fired.

Interior minister Mazen Faraya was later appointed by Royal Decree to run the health ministry, the Jordan News Agency reported.

Mr Obeidat said there had been a delay of an hour in refilling oxygen tanks at the hospital.

"Between 6am and 7am, an oxygen shortage occurred. Oxygen levels in the tanks went down," he told reporters at the hospital.

"Replacement oxygen was put in but in my personal opinion, for sure it was not enough."

Adnan Abbas, the health ministry coroner, said the patients who died were suffering from Covid-19 and that post mortems on four of them showed their deaths were caused by a “severe shortage of oxygen”.

Nizar Obeidat, Minister of Health. Courtesy Royal Hashemite Court

King Abdullah visited the hospital after the tragedy. Mobile phone footage shared on Facebook showed the king talking sternly to a hospital official. He was in military fatigues and wore a black face mask.

The newly built complex was ringed with heavy security to keep away hundreds of relatives of the dead who gathered outside after news of the deaths broke. Al Salt, a city of 90,000 people about 20 kilometres north-west of Amman, is home to influential Jordanian clans.

Mr Al Khasawneh said the king "became angry" after the incident, and that Mr Obeidat was fired.

"This anger definitely hit all of us. The anger regarding this government mixed with shame because of this fault," Mr Al Khasawneh said in a statement he read on official television.

He said the government bears "full responsibility" for the incident, but that a judicial investigation he has asked for should take its course.

The king appointed Mr Al Khasawneh, a former diplomat, amid a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths in October. He is Jordan's 12th prime minister in the past two decades.

Mr Obeidat said an investigation started by the attorney general would determine the exact reason for the hospital deaths.

"We have to be patient. The investigation would need to be medical and technical. Everyone who fell short of doing their job should be held accountable," he said.

"I as health minister bear full responsibility. I submitted my resignation in relation to this issue."

Mr Obeidat is the third minister in Jordan forced to quit because of a health scandal in the past few weeks.

King Abdullah last week replaced the interior and justice ministers after they breached coronavirus rules by attending a large banquet at a restaurant.

The two men, together with Mr Obeidat, were among the highest-level officials in the Cabinet in charge of enforcing the rules.

Jordan is facing a surge in Covid-19 infections attributed mainly to the fast transmission of the British variant of the virus.

Mr Obeidat said last week that the Covid-19 contagion has spread far beyond the official data on infections suggest. The health ministry has recorded 464,856 cases of the virus and 5,224 deaths so far.

Last week, the authorities announced stricter measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, lengthening daily curfew hours and reimposing a full lockdown on Fridays.

The government announced 8,300 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, the highest daily number of cases since the coronavirus first surfaced in the kingdom a year ago.

Jordan is in recession and unemployment is officially at a record high of 23.9 per cent. The economy has been stagnant for a decade and the coronavirus has deepened the country’s economic problems, reducing domestic demand and remittances, a well as revenue from tourism.

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS