Nashik : , April 21 (IANS) In a horrific incident, at least 22 Covid-19 patients on ventilator support died at a hospital in Nashik after a sudden drop in pressure due to leakage in the oxygen supplies, officials said.

The invisible gas tragedy took place at the Dr. Zakir Hussain Hospital run by the BJP-controlled Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC), which is among the biggest civic bodies and one of the worst Covid-19 hotspots in the state.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, and other senior Central and state leaders cutting across political lines expressed their grief over the tragedy that occurred on the day of Ram Navami.

According to NMC officials and experts, there were certain technical glitches in transferring oxygen from a tank, which caused a sudden variation in the pressure of the oxygen being administered in the Covid-19 ward, and 22 patients on ventilator beds died gasping for breath within minutes.

People were left speechless as visuals of the tragedy were posted on social media with the invisible gas stored in the oxygen tank under extremely cold minus-temperatures suddenly gushing out in snow-white, hissing clouds, with workers and others running around in panic. Some technicians were seen struggling with the controls to curb the deadly outflow.

At that time, around 150 patients were undergoing treatment on oxygen beds and another two dozen on ventilator beds but with the sudden drop in the oxygen pressure, the hospital staff were seen running helter-skelter to save their lives by shifting them to other wards or nearby hospitals.

"It's a very serious incident... coming due to a drop in pressure of the oxygen being administered to the patients," Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said of the tragedy, which happened as the state struggles to beef up its oxygen supplies.

Stunned by the sudden loss of their near and dear ones, wailing relatives slammed the NMC authorities, demanding to know who would take responsibility for the tragedy.

NMC Municipal Commissioner Kailash Jadhav termed it as "a very sad tragedy", and ordered a probe into the incident and assured action against all found guilty of lapses.

He said that owing to the leak, the oxygen supply was stopped for around half-an-hour, which culminated in the disaster with the 22 patients dying on ventilators.

Nashik Collector Suraj Mandhare attributed the deaths to the pressure drop in the oxygen tank, which is managed and maintained by a private company.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that he was stunned to learn of the tragedy, while Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appealed to the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and his party workers to extend all assistance to the victims' families.

Chief Minister Thackeray said that "the state is numbed" by the sheer calamity in the midst of the Corona war being waged by the state and announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of the deceased.

Deputy Chief Minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar condoled the tragedy and assured a high-level investigation, with condolences also coming from Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray and other ministers. The Leader of Opposition, Devendra Fadnavis, described the incident as "terrible and disturbing".

Hitting out at the BJP, Congress state spokesperson Sachin Sawant said: "The hospital is managed by the NMC which is under the BJP-rule. The BJP must take responsibility. Where are the party's Mayor and 3 MLAs," Sawant asked.

Besides Tope, state ministers Balasaheb Thorat, Rajendra Shingane, Chhagan Bhujbal and other senior leaders from the ruling MVA rushed to Nashik for a spot assessment of the situation.

BJP's Leader of Opposition (Council), Pravin Darekar, attacked the MVA government and demanded lodging of cases under culpable homicide against NMC Commissioner Jadhav, accusing him of being 'solely responsible' for the incident.

The Nashik incident has become the worst Covid-related tragedy in the past 13 months of the pandemic after a fire at a hospital claimed 11 lives, including 6 on ventilator support, at a Mumbai hospital on March 26.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

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