Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray calls the incident ‘shocking and painful’ and orders a high-level inquiry; India records 2,023 deaths and 295,041 new infections.

At least 24 patients died at the government-run Dr Zakir Hussain Hospital in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, after their oxygen supply was disrupted by a leakage in the main storage tank.

Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope rushed to Nashik and said about the incident, “As per information available with us, patients who were on ventilators at the hospital in Nashik have died. The leakage was spotted at the oxygen tank which was supplying oxygen to these patients. The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the patients in the hospital.”

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray called the incident “shocking and painful” and ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident and also announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of the deceased.

Zakir Hussain Hospital is a dedicated Covid hospital with over 150 patients either oxygen-dependent or on ventilators. A cork in the oxygen tank had malfunctioned which led to a reduction in pressure in the oxygen pipeline which goes straight to the Covid wards. It took an hour for technicians to plug the leakage.

Heart wrenching visuals showed families trying to help the patients as they gasped for breath.

Senior BJP leader and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis conveyed condolences and said, “Priority should be given to assist and shift patients. The truth will come out after an inquiry, but immediate steps are needed to avoid such incidents in the future.”

News of this tragedy comes amid the current surge in the demand for oxygen supplies which has been triggered by the staggering spike in cases of Covid-19 in India. On Wednesday, 2,023 deaths due to the virus and 2,95,041 new infections were recorded nationwide, worsening the oxygen crisis in the country.

Only the United States had a slightly higher one-day rise of 297,430 cases in January this year, though its tally has since fallen sharply. India’s 2,023 deaths were also its highest in the pandemic.

Hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere have warned authorities about dwindling supplies of medical oxygen. Max Healthcare, the largest private sector healthcare provider in the national capital, stated that some of its hospitals had barely two hours’ worth of oxygen left.

“For the last few days the hospital has been facing serious difficulties in procuring adequate and regular supplies of oxygen,” it said in a statement. “Presently, most of the hospitals in the network are working on dangerously low levels of oxygen supply, which can lead to a very serious adverse patient incident,” the statement added.

In Uttar Pradesh, crowds of people with empty oxygen cylinders were seen at refilling facilities as they struggled to save severely Covid-stricken relatives in hospitals.

Some people in Haryana also attempted to loot an oxygen tanker, forcing authorities to increase security. “From now, I’ve ordered police protection for all tankers,” Haryana health minister Anil Vij told news agency ANI.

Adding to the sense of alarm, the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures the AstraZeneca vaccine as Covishield, informed that it can raise its monthly output to 100 million doses from 60-70 million only by July, not the end of May, as per its previous timeline. There are concerns that this delay could slow down India’s vaccination drive, especially now that the Centre has announced that vaccines would be offered to all adults, starting May 1.

India has so far administered 13,01,19,310 doses of the Covid vaccines, which despite being the most in the world after the United States and China, is still inadequate relative to its population of 1.35 billion people.

The total cases of Covid-19 in India stands at 1,56,16,130 currently, including 21,57,538 active cases. As many as 1,32,76,039 recoveries have also been reported so far, out of which 1,67,457 were reported in the last 24 hours. The death toll stands at 1,82,553.