India: hospital fire kills 13 Covid-19 patients in Mumbai

India's healthcare system struggling to cope with rapidly mounting case numbers

An ambulance driver waits to refill oxygen tanks outside a refill station in Navi Mumbai, India, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. India saw a record one-day jump with more than 300,000 new coronavirus infections, marking a grim milestone for the country as a deadlier second wave showing no signs of abating. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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Thirteen Covid-19 patients died in a hospital fire on Friday – the latest tragedy to hit India's healthcare system as it buckles under a devastating wave of infections.

The fire broke out in a hospital on the outskirts of Mumbai at about 3am, a local official said.

"There were 17 patients inside when a fire broke out in the ICU of Vijay Vallabh Hospital, out of which 13 died and four have been shifted to other facilities," fire department official Morrison Khavari said.

Earlier this week, 22 Covid-19 patients died at another hospital in Maharashtra state when the oxygen supply to their ventilators was disrupted by a leak.

And four patients died when a blaze broke out in a private hospital in the state earlier this month. In March a fire at a Mumbai clinic killed 11.

India's healthcare system has long suffered from underfunding and the new Covid outbreak is causing critical shortages in oxygen, drugs and hospital beds, sparking desperate pleas for help.

India recorded about four million new infections this month, dashing hopes at the start of the year that the country may have weathered the worst of the pandemic.

Daily infections hit 332,730 on Friday, up from 314,835 the previous day when India set a new record, surpassing one set by the United States in January of 297,430 new cases. Deaths in the past 24 hours also jumped to a record 2,263, the health ministry said

The surge in infections is partially blamed on large-scale outdoor events, including the vast Kumbh Mela gathering in Haridwar, which between January and this week attracted an estimated 25 million Hindu pilgrims, mostly without masks or any physical distancing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday was scheduled to hold at least three crisis meetings on oxygen supplies and the availability of critical medicines.

The capital New Delhi continues to be among the areas worst hit, with hundreds of thousands of new infections and many new hospital admissions in the past few days.

Hospitals in the city posted daily appeals to the state and national government over shrinking oxygen supplies.

"SOS. Less than an hour's oxygen supplies at Max Smart Hospital & Max Hospital Saket. Awaiting promised fresh supplies from INOX since 1am ... over 700 patients admitted, need immediate assistance," Max Healthcare, one of the biggest private hospital chains, said on Twitter early on Friday morning.

Other private hospital chains in the region issued similar video messages and social media posts in recent days.

At least six hospitals ran out of oxygen in the Indian capital late on Thursday night, with several others left with just a few hours' worth.

"Twenty-five sickest patients have died in last 24 hours. Oxygen will last another two hours ... major crisis likely. Lives of another 60 sickest patients at risk, need urgent intervention," said the medical director of the Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi.