A fire that reportedly started around 3.15 A.M on Friday in Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Virar in Mumbai has claimed the lives of 13 Covid-19 patients undergoing treatment there. The hospital’s CEO Dilip Shah, confirmed the incident, stated multiple news reports. Some reports have indicated that the blaze started due to a short-circuit in the air conditioner of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the fire then raged on till 5.30 A.M.
While the official death toll has been confirmed as 13, it may rise as it has been noticed in similar fires that have been reported since last year. According to news reports the CEO confirmed that, around 90 patients were admitted to the hospital at the time of the incident. Visuals on social media soon showed the chaos after the incident as medical staff moved out other patients to safety.
#Breaking | Fire breaks out at a COVID Center in Vasai of Palghar district, Maharashtra. Affected patients are being shifted to nearby hospitals. (ANI)
— NDTV (@ndtv) April 23, 2021
Maharashtra has, like many other states, been dealing with the massive second wave of Covid infections, and over 67,000 fresh cases have been reported in the past 24 hours in the state. It is one of the worst hit states in the country with a total caseload of over 40 lakh infections, the pandemic. News reports quoted stressed family members describing the horrors: “As I reached the hospital, I saw fire engines outside. The ICU at the second floor was engulfed in smoke. Only two nurses were there, and I couldn’t see a doctor. It took firefighters about half an hour to put out the flames. We could see eight-ten bodies there,” stated one Avinash Patil, an eyewitness. However, the CEO Dilip Shah rejected claims that there were no doctors at the hospital and added that his hospital is following all fire safety norms. The five survivors have been shifted elsewhere.
Saddened by the loss of lives due to tragic fire at a Hospital in Palghar, Maharashtra. My condolences to the bereaved families. Praying for the speedy recovery of the injured.
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) April 23, 2021
This fire in a Covid-19 hospital has triggered distress as memories of similar such incidents have come rushing back for families who have been dealing with double tragedies of disease and accidents. In December 2020, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah had issued a set of guidelines for the States over hospital fire incidents and containment of the virus in Re: The Proper Treatment of Covid 19 Patients and Dignified Handling of Dead Bodies In The Hospitals Etc. (W.P [C] No. 7 of 2020). On November 27, 2020, the top court had taken suo motu cognisance of the Rajkot Hospital fire in Gujarat resulting in death of Covid patients. The Court had also taken notice of earlier incidents of fire in Covid Hospitals. Here are some similar fires and accidents that were reported recently and have added to the trauma caused by the Pandemic.
21 Apr 2021: Oxygen tanker leak kills 22 patients in Nashik. The incident occurred at the municipal corporation run Zakir Husain Hospital in Nashik. The oxygen tanker leaked causing shortage supply to critical patients who were on ventilator support. Around 150 patients were either oxygen-dependent or on ventilators, 31 patients were shifted to other hospitals after the tragic incident. Maharashtra’s Health Minister, Rajesh Tope had told NDTV, “As per the information available with us, 11 patients who were on ventilators at the hospital in Nashik have died. The leakage was spotted at the oxygen tank which was supplying oxygen to these patients. The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the 11 patients in the hospital.” The Cabinet Minister for Food and Drugs administration, Dr Rajendra Shingane told the media that the government has ordered an inquiry as well.
26 Mar 2021: Please forgive me: CM Thackeray to families of hospital fire victims. Ten innocent lives were lost in the devastating fire that broke out Sunrise Hospital, Dream Mall in Bhandup, Mumbai. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said that action will be taken against those who are found responsible. He visited the spot and announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of the victims. Those who died were critically ill and were on ventilator support. CM Thackeray also sought forgiveness of the families of victims, and has directed authorities to conduct fire safety checks in malls or other structures across the state where hospitals are being set up for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. He has promised that strict action will be taken against all those responsible for negligence and delay in this regard.
January 11, 2021: NHRC issues notice to Maha gov’t, cops after 10 babies die in hospital fire. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a notice to Maharashtra’s Bhandara district general hospital on January 11, 2021 demanding a detailed report about the death of ten newborn babies in a hospital fire on January 9. It was reported that as many as 10 babies ranging from one-month to three-months old had died during a fire in the Sick Newborn Care Unit (SNCU,). The NHRC issued notices to the Chief Secretary, the Director General of Police (DGP) and the state government asking for a detailed report in the matter within four weeks. It directed that the report should also contain fire audit reports of various hospitals in Maharashtra as well as measures taken or contemplated by the state against erring or negligent officials.Meanwhile, police registered the incident as an accident and are conducting further investigation. A nurse on duty noticed smoke from the neonatal section of the hospital at 1:30 AM. The state government declared a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to each grieving family.
December 15 2020: Shrey Hospital Fire: Guj HC bats for greater accountability
Responding to points raised about fire safety, court issues a slew of order fixing responsibility on various officials. On December 15, while passing orders in a batch of Public Interest Litigations (PIL) in connection with the Shrey Hospital fire case, the Gujarat High Court made a series of pertinent observations and passed orders that are bound to have a far-reaching impact. On August 6, 2020 a fire had broken out in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital leading to the deaths of eight Covid-19 patients at the Shrey Hospital. Advocate Suhel Tirmizi, whose wife Ayesha was one of the victims, had filed a PIL demanding accountability be fixed on various state and hospital authorities. Taking note of his grievances, the court noted that “writ-applicant no.1 is a practicing advocate of this High Court and his wife had to be admitted at the Shrey Hospital in connection with kidney ailment. The wife of the writ-applicant no.1 was to be discharged within a day, but unfortunately she lost her life along with seven others in the fire that engulfed the entire ICU of the Shrey Hospital.” It further noted that “the writ-applicants as the kith and kin of the victims are anxious to know as to who is responsible for this fire. They would like to know from the State Government, whether the accountability of any particular person has been fixed in this regard. They would also like to know from the State Government as to whether the culprits responsible for this have been booked and punished or not so far.” The court was also shocked to discover that the “building plans in which the Shrey Hospital is running originally was a residential building. In other words, the Corporation had sanctioned the plan as a residential complex, but later revised the same for commercial use upon acceptance of the impact fee.”