A fire killed 18 COVID-19 patients in a hospital in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Saturday, as the country reported more than 400,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the first time.
According to official data released by the country’s health ministry, 401,993 new infections were recorded on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 19.1 million, just behind the U.S., with 32.3 million — however, health experts believe India’s number could be much higher.
Police said the incident happened on the ground floor of the Welfare Hospital in the city of Bharuch, The Associated Press reported.
Hospital workers and firefighters were able to rescue 31 other patients.
The blaze was extinguished within an hour.
According to The Times of India, the fire broke out at 12:35 a.m. due to a short circuit in the COVID-19 ward of the hospital. It then quickly spread to the intensive care unit.
At least 12 fire trucks and 40 ambulances arrived at the scene. Survivors were taken to a nearby hospital.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to express “condolences to the bereaved families.” He wrote that he was “pained by the loss of lives due to a fire at a hospital in Bharuch.”
Late last month, another fire killed 13 COVID-19 patients in the ICU of a hospital near Mumbai, the BBC reported.
The two incidents come as India struggles to contain a devastating new wave of infections.
Before Saturday’s record-high of more than 400,000 cases, India experienced 10 consecutive days with more than 300,000 reported daily cases.
On Saturday, COVID-related deaths increased by 3,523, bringing the total count to 211,853 — behind Mexico, Brazil and the U.S.
Only about 26 million people have been fully vaccinated in the country of 1.4 billion people.
Beginning Saturday, the Indian government opened up vaccination to all adults aged 18-44. However, the country’s massive vaccination drive has been hampered in some areas by shortages of vaccines, Reuters reported.
As the second COVID-19 wave ravages through India, the country’s health system is nearing collapse.
On Saturday, 12 people, including a doctor, died at a hospital in Delhi after the facility ran out of oxygen — for the second time in a week.
“These are patients whose oxygen levels sank when supply was low … it is hard to revive such patients. The next 24-48 hours are critical and [the] death toll could be higher,” the hospital’s executive director, Dr. Sudhanshu Bankata, told New Delhi Television.
More than 200 patients are currently on oxygen support, he added.
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