In yet another hospital tragedy in the country in the recent days, 24 patients, 23 of them covid-infected, died in Karnataka's Chamarajanagar due to alleged oxygen shortage in the district hospital in the last 24 hours, with the government warning of stringent action against those found guilty.
The government ordered a probe into the matter and appointed senior IAS officer Shivayogi Kalasad as the inquiry officer.
The incident evoked a sharp response from the Congress, with party leader Rahul Gandhi wondering "how much more suffering before the 'system' wakes up."
In heart-breaking episodes preceding Monday’s incident in the country, a fire at a mall in Mumbai housing a Covid-designated hospital in March left nine, including those on ventilators, dead, while 22 COVID-19 patients who were either on ventilator or oxygen support, suffocated to death when their oxygen supply stopped suddenly due to a malfunction in the main storage at a civic hospital in Nashik.
Similarly, 15 coronavirus patients died after a fire broke out at the Intensive Care Unit of a private hospital in Palghar district, also in Maharashtra in April.
Further, 12 COVID-19 patients, including the head of department of the gastroenterology department of Batra Hospital in Delhi died allegedly due to oxygen shortage on Saturday.
A glitch in oxygen supply in Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh resulted in three deaths last week.
At Chamarajanagar, a pall of gloom descended on the district hospital as the grieving kin of the deceased gathered after hearing the news.
Family members of the dead also staged a demonstration at the hospital and alleged there was shortage of oxygen and raised slogans.
Chamarajanagar district in-charge Minister S Suresh Kumar said he has ordered a death audit report from the district administration into the incident.
He, however, maintained that all the deaths did not occur due to oxygen shortage.
"It's not appropriate to say that all the 24 deaths were due to oxygen shortage. These deaths occurred from Sunday morning to this morning."
"The oxygen shortage happened in the wee hours of Monday -- from 12.30 am to 2.30 am," Kumar, who holds the primary and secondary Education portfolio, told reporters.
He said the death audit report would detail what these patients were suffering from, whether they had any co-morbidities and in which condition they were brought to the hospital.
"All the people who died may not have died due to oxygen shortage," he added.
According to him, there is a stock of 6,000 litres of Liquid Medical Oxygen, but there was a need for oxygen cylinders.
"The cylinders were supposed to come from Mysuru, but there was some glitch," Kumar said.
He also said he has explained the situation to the chief secretary of the state, personal secretary to the chief minister and the Additional Director General of Police Pratap Reddy, who is in charge of oxygen supply in the state.
"I have also told the officials to find a permanent solution for the supply of oxygen in Chamarajanagar district.
There indeed is a problem in Mysuru, but that should not hinder the supply of oxygen from Mysuru to Chamarajanagar and Mandya," Kumar added.
Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa warned of strict action against those found responsible for the incident and also expressed shock over the deaths.
"I have ordered an inquiry into the matter and strict action will be taken at the earliest against those responsible. We will also ensure that such an incident is never repeated," Yediyurappa tweeted.
"Deeply pained and shocked by the loss of lives at the Chamarajanagar district hospital. I express my heartfelt condolences to the family members. Government stands firmly with the bereaved families in their hour of grief," he added.
Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders, including former chief minister Siddaramaiah hit out at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party over the deaths.
"Died or Killed? My heartfelt condolences to their families. How much more suffering before the 'system' wakes up?" Gandhi tweeted.
Congress Karnataka chief D K Shivakumar said the government is only interested in publicity and does not take any responsibility.
"The chief minister and ministers are not able to handle it (administration)," he said, adding he would take up the matter with the Chief Secretary and ask him to "present the truth before the people."
Siddaramaiah demanded a judicial probe into the deaths.
He said an inquiry by an IAS officer, as ordered by the government, will not serve any purpose.