At least 24 COVID-19 patients on ventilators have died in a hospital in India after their oxygen supply was disrupted by a leak in a supply line, officials say.
The supply disruption hit the Zakir Hussain Hospital in Nashik in Maharashtra state, which is the worst hit by the latest surge in coronavirus cases in the country.
Fire officer Sanjay Bairagi said the leak on Tuesday was halted by the fire service within 15 minutes.
Television images showed white fumes spreading in the hospital area, causing panic.
Police officer Surinder Sonone said the leak occurred in a pipe connecting the oxygen supply to the main tank in the hospital complex.
Five of the 140 COVID-19 patients were shifted to another hospital, he said.
The state government ordered an investigation of the leak, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.
“The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the patients in the hospital,” he said.
It came amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases that is soaking up supplies of oxygen. Hospitals in Delhi, the capital, and elsewhere have warned supplies of medical oxygen given to severely ill COVID-19 patients are running low.
Max Healthcare, the largest private sector healthcare provider in Delhi and its suburbs, has told Reuters that some of its hospitals had barely two hours’ supply of oxygen.
There have also been reports of people attempting to rob an oxygen tanker in the northern state of Haryana, prompting authorities to beef up security.
India reported more than 295,000 new infections on Wednesday – the biggest daily rise reported in the country – stretching its hospitals to breaking point.