At least 22 coronavirus patients on ventilators have died in hospital in western India after the oxygen supply was disrupted due to a massive leakage in the main tank, officials said.
The incident happened on Wednesday at around 10am in government-run Dr Zakir Husain hospital in Nashik city, Maharashtra, when the main storage tank was being refilled.
“The oxygen pressure for patients on an invasive ventilator and in intensive care unit reduced. The hospital has informed us that 22 patients died,” district official Suraj Mandhare said, according to the Indian Express newspaper.
The lid of the oxygen tank had malfunctioned while refilling the tanks of the Covid-19 dedicated hospital, which has about 150 patients, the officials said.
The incident led to panic in the hospital as several family members rushed inside the wards. “This also led to a delay in restoring the situation. The entire staff is still in a state of shock,” said Radhakrishna Game Nashik, the divisional commissioner.
Footage from the hospital showed thick plumes of gas emanating in large quantities out of a truck as staff struggled to control the situation.
The tank was plugged back in after almost an hour but the supply had already been affected to the wards and intensive care units.
Technicians and fire brigade were sent to the hospital. “By that time a lot of oxygen was wasted. The hospital tried to divert cylinders towards patients but ICU patients on high flow oxygen could not be saved,” an official said.
Maharashtra state chief Uddhav Thackeray has ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident, describing the incident as “shocking and painful”. He has announced a compensation of Rs 500,000 (£4,760) each to the families of the deceased.
“Those responsible for this accident will not be spared. But, no one should politicise this unfortunate incident. This is an attack on Maharashtra. Maharashtra is mourning over the Nashik tragedy,” he said.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said he was “anguished” by the loss of lives and called the incident “heart-wrenching”.
He tweeted: “The tragedy at a hospital in Nashik because of oxygen tank leakage is heart-wrenching. Anguished by the loss of lives due to it. Condolences to the bereaved families in this sad hour.”
Rajesh Tope, Maharashtra’s health ministe, said there were 157 patients at the hospital, with 61 “critical with some of them on ventilator and oxygen support. Among the 22 who lost their lives, 11 are men and 11 women”.
He said he will issue a statement following the investigation.
Security has been increased outside the hospital as angry family members gathered claiming that they were not informed about the incident and demanding an investigation.
The incident comes as several states were hit with an acute shortage of oxygen as coronavirus numbers soared. On Wednesday, the country reported 295,041 new cases and more than 2,000 dead.
India has 2.15 million people currently battling infection and a death toll exceeding 180,000.