NEW DELHI — Eleven people died after a fire broke out in a coronavirus intensive care unit in the western state of Maharashtra, the latest in a series of fatal disasters in Covid-19 wards in India.
Hospital staff tried to douse the fire that started Saturday morning with fire extinguishers, but the flames spread quickly in the airtight room, cutting the power out and forcing people to flee to safety, said Shankar Misal, the fire chief in the Ahmednagar district.
“It created huge, black smoke inside. It was completely dark,” he said.
Within minutes, firefighters had shattered windowpanes and lifted out 15 patients from the 17-bed facility. Most of the 11 patients who died suffocated from smoke, Mr. Misal said. The survivors’ medical condition was not immediately known.
The fire department is investigating whether an electrical short circuit caused the blaze. The Covid-19 ward was among many built hastily across India to accommodate a deluge of patients through the pandemic.
India’s infection curve is down sharply from the peak of its second wave in June, but the country is still reporting about 13,000 new cases daily.
Maharashtra’s top elected official, the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, wrote on Twitter to express his “deep anguish over the incident.”
India’s health system — fragile and underfunded even in normal times — has experienced enormous strain during waves of the pandemic. In June, hospitals in the capital, New Delhi, and the state capital of Maharashtra, Mumbai, ran out of beds, medical oxygen and staff, and turned away patients who died outside the gates.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up the country’s health care infrastructure, but health is managed at a state level in India, and the standard of care and conditions at hospitals vary greatly from one region to the next.
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