15 Covid patients die in Virar hospital fire
Fifteen Covid patients were charred to death after a fire broke out on the second floor of a four-storey private hospital, Vijay Vallabh Covid Care Hospital, in Virar in the early hours of Friday, officials said.
The wife of one of the patients, Chandni Doshi, 40, died of shock minutes after hearing that her husband Kumar Kishore Doshi, 45, was killed in the blaze. She was being treated for Covid at another hospital, Jeevdani, in the vicinity. They have a 14-year-old daughter.
A short-circuit may have been behind the fire, which broke out around 3.15am, according to preliminary findings by the the Vasai-Virar fire brigade.
“There were 17 patients in the ICU, of whom 14 have been confirmed dead,” said Dilip Palav, chief fire officer, Vasai-Virar civic fire brigade. “Around 10 tenders were pressed into service, and the fire was controlled within 10 minutes,” he added.
Eyewitnesses said the fire spread quickly. “I had come to the hospital to admit my friend’s mother. I saw the ward completely in smoke, and later the charred bodies,” said Avinash Patil.
Tempers ran high in the area after the incident, with relatives of the victims expressing their anguish against the government and the hospital administration.
Dr Dilip Shah, CEO of the hospital, said he was mobbed by agitated relatives who blamed the hospital for the tragedy. “There were 90 patients in the hospital at the time of the incident. We are cooperating with the police, who are checking documents of fire and structural audits and also the occupation certificate of the hospital,” he said.
Some people also surrounded ministers Eknath Shinde and Dadaji Bhuse, who visited the spot. A few alleged that the central air-conditioning unit was faulty, and that the management was aware of it. The relatives also beseeched Palghar collector Dr Manik Gursal and Vasai-Virar municipal commissioner Gangatharan Devrajan, who assured them that the guilty would be punished after an inquiry was conducted. Some of the relatives also said that were told about the deaths hours later. “My sister, Shama Arun Mahale, 48, was admitted in the ICU. I was informed about her death only at 7.30am,” said Dr Ravi Tandel, her brother.
Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered an inquiry into the incident, and compensation of ₹5 lakh each to the family members of the victim, and ₹1 lakh each to other seriously injured patients. “The cause of the fire should be properly investigated. The administration has been instructed to immediately inquire whether the fire safety was adequate and whether it was a private hospital,” a statement from the chief minister’s office (CMO) said.
“Orders have been given to the administration to undertake a thorough inquiry and those found responsible will not be spared. The government has already announced a financial assistance of ₹5 lakh each to the families of those who lost their lives,” said Eknath Shinde, state urban development minister and Shiv Sena leader.
Sanjay Patil, deputy commissioner of police, Zone 2, Mira-Bhayander Vasai-Virar commissionerate, said and an FIR (first information report) was registered against the hospital management, doctors, and staff, under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 337 and 338 (whoever causes hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life) of the Indian Penal Code.
“No arrests have been made so far. The bodies have been sent for post-mortem examination,” he said.
Leader of Opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis said, “This has been the fifth such case related to hospitals in the past six months. We have witnessed tragic incidents at hospitals in Bhandara, Nagpur, Nashik, Bhandup and now at Virar. After every incident, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray says that a fire safety audit would be conducted, but nothing comes out of it. Covid-19 hospitals are currently under tremendous pressure and in such a backdrop, the state should set up a mechanism for fire safety.”
Friday’s fire comes two days after 24 Covid patients died after a leak in an oxygen tank in Nashik led to disruption in the supply of oxygen. Nine Covid-19 patients, mostly senior citizens, were killed on March 27, after a massive fire broke out at Sunrise Hospital, located inside the Dreams Mall in Bhandup. Six of the dead were on ventilators.