A deadly fire at a hospital in India tore through a Covid-19 ward

Covid-19 patients receive treatment inside the emergency ward at Holy Family hospital in New Delhi, on April 29, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (NYTIMES, AFP) - At least 16 Covid-19 patients and two nurses died Saturday (May 1) in the latest in a series of hospital fires in India, officials said, as the country's health care system buckles under a surge in cases.

There were around 50 other patients at the four-storey hospital in Bharuch in the western state of Gujarat when the blaze began at 1am (3.30am Singapore time).

Videos posted to social media showed part of the hospital in flames and patients being evacuated.

It has since been put out.

The death toll stood at 18, local police official Rajendrasinh Chudasama told AFP, "including 16 patients and two nurses."

"Primary investigation revealed that the fire started due to a short-circuit in the ICU of the hospital," he said.

The blaze at the hospital, located about 320km north of Mumbai, erupted as Covid-19 overwhelms the health system of India, which has been assaulted with deaths and infections in a second wave of Covid.

Two hospital fires last week in India, a nation of 1.4 billion people, claimed the lives of dozens of coronavirus patients.

At least 22 coronavirus patients died at a hospital in Maharashtra State when a leak cut off their oxygen supply. Two days later, a fire at another hospital in the state killed at least 13 Covid patients.

The nation's second wave of Covid has crammed hospitals to unbearably full capacity, exhausted oxygen supplies and left desperate people dying in line waiting to see doctors. Mass cremations have been held around the country.

The health authorities are now reporting more than 300,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths a day.

On Saturday India reported over 400,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours for the first time, the first country to do so in the pandemic, official data showed.

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Many experts suspect that because of insufficient testing and inaccurate recording of cause of death, the real numbers are much higher.

A growing number of countries have curtailed travel to and from India. On Friday, the Biden administration announced that starting Tuesday, most non-US citizens will be barred from entering the country from India.

India's vaunted vaccine industry - a world leader - has been overwhelmed with demand for Covid vaccine and has restricted exports to satisfy the need at home.

Other fires in hospitals treating Covid patients around the world have heightened the devastation at a time when they are struggling to meet the demands of overwhelming cases and deaths.

Last week at a Baghdad hospital, a fire set off by an exploding oxygen cylinder killed at least 82 people, most of them Covid patients and their relatives. The Interior Ministry said 110 more people were hurt.

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