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Oxygen leak leaves 22 covid patients dead at a hospital in India

The accident comes as India confronts a devastating second wave in the pandemic

A patient cries after an oxygen leak at a hospital in Nashik, India, on Wednesday killed 22 patients. (AP)
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NEW DELHI — At least 22 covid-19 patients died Wednesday at a hospital in India after an oxygen tank ruptured, leaving critically ill patients gasping for breath.

A faulty valve in the hospital’s oxygen tank caused the leak, said Suraj Mandhare, a senior district official in Nashik, the city in western India where the deaths took place.

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At the time of the incident, the hospital was treating more than 150 covid patients, Chhagan Bhujbal, a minister in the state government, told reporters. Nearly all the patients were receiving oxygen support, he said, including 15 who were on ventilators. Local officials said the death toll in the incident could rise.

The accident comes as India confronts a devastating second wave in the coronavirus pandemic that has pushed daily cases and deaths to record highs. Hospitals in several states have been overwhelmed with patients, and demand for oxygen has soared.

In New Delhi, India’s capital, officials have issued stark warnings about looming oxygen shortages. Several major hospitals told the local government on Tuesday that they were hours away from depleting their stocks, the city’s health minister said. Fresh supplies ultimately arrived, but the pressure on hospitals remains immense.

In Nashik, about three hours by road northeast of Mumbai, an oxygen tank at Dr. Zakir Hussain Hospital burst around 12:30 p.m., Bhujbal said. Local television stations showed plumes of white gas inside and outside the hospital. Technicians rushed to the spot and managed to stop the leak by 1:45 p.m., said Bhujbal.

Relatives told local media that the oxygen supply was cut off. A woman interviewed by TV9, a local television channel, said her mother began to gasp after the oxygen was disrupted. “She died, and so did everyone in her ward,” the daughter said. The grandson of one of the victims told another channel that his grandmother died within 10 minutes of the break in supply.

Television channels aired footage of hospital staff frantically trying to resuscitate patients and relatives wailing as they hugged the dead.

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The oxygen supply was later restored, and some patients have been shifted to other hospitals. Deepak Pandey, Nashik’s commissioner of police, said the death toll could rise. The patients who survived are “in shock,” he said.

Patients who are severely ill with covid-19 can require up to 100 liters of oxygen per minute, said Amit Thadani, a doctor and managing director of a hospital in Mumbai. For those on ventilators, the requirement is even higher. The fact that so many patients died in the Nashik incident suggests they required high amounts of oxygen, Thadani said.

Tanvi Deshpande in Nashik and Taniya Dutta in New Delhi contributed to this report.