A fatal hospital fire in the West Indies in the early hours of Saturday added to the country’s misery as it battled new global records in a staggering second wave of coronavirus cases.
The fire broke through a Covid-19 station in the city of Bharuch, killing at least 18 people – 16 of them patients, two of them health workers – officials told local news outlets. Efforts have been made to determine the cause of the fire and fire officials said a short circuit could have resulted in the fire.
The episode came when the United States announced it would be curtailing travel from India starting next week as a spate of infections and deaths overwhelmed the South Asian country, which started its disastrous run of record-breaking coronavirus transmissions of more than 400,000 on Saturday newly reported cases continued 3,500 deaths. No other country has exceeded 400,000 reported cases in a single day.
The second wave in India has overcrowded hospitals and left people to die waiting to see doctors. Sick relatives share requests for oxygen, medication, and other supplies on social media. There were more than 19 million confirmed cases and more than 211,000 deaths in India, according to a New York Times database. Experts say the real numbers are likely much higher.
The country’s health system – fragile and underfunded even in normal times – is showing signs of tension. The fire in Bharuch, Gujarat state, followed several accidents in Indian hospitals that killed coronavirus patients.
A separate fire that week killed four people in a hospital in Surat, another city in Gujarat. At least 22 Covid-19 patients died a few days earlier in a hospital in the neighboring state of Maharashtra when a leak interrupted their oxygen supply. And two days later, at least 13 Covid-19 patients died in a fire in another hospital in Maharashtra.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the families of the victims in Bharuch. Gujarat’s Prime Minister Vijay Rupani said the state government will give approximately $ 5,300 in relief supplies to the families of each victim.
The United States, along with countries like Australia, Great Britain, and Canada, have restricted travel from India. The U.S. restrictions, expected to take effect Tuesday, do not apply to United States citizens or permanent residents, their spouses or minor children or siblings, or parents of citizens or permanent residents under the age of 21.
Those exempt from the ban will have to meet even earlier requirements for international travelers, including testing negative for the virus before traveling and again when entering the US from India. They must be quarantined even if they are not vaccinated.
Starting Monday, Australia will ban all travelers, including its own citizens, if they have been to India in the past two weeks. Violators are subject to imprisonment and heavy fines. Officials admitted the measure was “very drastic” but said it was necessary to keep Australians safe.
The United States and other governments have pledged their support to India as it grapples with the world’s worst coronavirus crisis since the pandemic began. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that military cargo planes had started the first shipments of emergency supplies promised by the Biden government.
On Saturday, India expanded vaccinations to all people over the age of 18, but many states said they could not meet demand due to lack of doses. Less than 2 percent of India’s 940 million adults have been fully vaccinated, according to a Times database.