Fourteen coronavirus patients who were in the ICU have died in a fire at a hospital in Indian state of Maharashtra's Virar, about 70 km from state capital Mumbai.
The fire broke out at around 3 am in the ICU on the second floor of the four-storeyed Vijay Vallabh Hospital, an official said, reports the NDTV.
"Around 90 patients were admitted to the hospital at the time of the incident," Dilip Shah, CEO, Vijay Vallabh Hospital, told reporters.
Distressing visuals showed people mourning their loved ones. Chaos unfolded soon after the incident as friends and family members gathered outside the hospital, waiting for an update about the patients.
The incident comes as Maharashtra battles the second wave of coronavirus and an unprecedented surge in Covid infections. Over 67,000 fresh cases have been reported since yesterday. With a total caseload of over 40 lakh infections, Maharashtra is the worst-hit state in the country by the pandemic.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the deaths in Palghar district's Virar "tragic".
"Condolences to those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover soon," his office quoted him as saying in a tweet.
In a statement, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's office said he "has expressed sorrow" over the deaths. "He has directed that other patients undergoing treatment should not be harmed and should be relocated immediately. After learning about the fire, the Chief Minister himself has spoken to the concerned officials and asked them to first of all give priority to extinguishing the fire completely and ensure that treatment on other patients continues," the official statement read.
"The cause of the fire should be properly investigated. He also directed the administration to immediately inquire whether the fire safety was adequate and whether it was a private hospital," it added.
Speaking to reporters this morning, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said: "In today's meeting with the Prime Minister, we will talk about oxygen, Remdesivir, adequate quantity of vaccines for the state...also the Virar fire incident, it is not national news."
After he was interrupted by the reporter on the number of deaths in the fire, he said: "The state government will provide all financial assistance to all those affected."
Recalling the series of events, Avinash Patil, an eyewitness, had earlier told reporters, "I got a call at around 3 am from a friend whose mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital. As I reached the hospital, I saw fire engines outside. The ICU on the second floor was engulfed in smoke. Only two nurses were there, and I couldn't see a doctor. It took firefighters about half an hour to put out the flames. We could see eight-ten bodies there."
Rejecting claims that there were no doctors at the hospital last night, Dilip Shah said: "Doctors were present". He also stressed that the hospital is following all fire safety norms.
Union Minister Rajnath Singh, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis were among the top leaders who condoled the deaths on social media.
"Tragic news has been received from Vijay Vallabh Covid centre in Virar about the death of patients due to a fire. My deepest condolences to the families of the victims. I appeal to the State Govt and Congress workers to provide all necessary assistance," Rahul Gandhi, who tested positive for Covid earlier this week, wrote on messaging app Telegram.
Maharashtra was struck by another tragedy on Wednesday when 24 Covid patients died in Nashik after an oxygen tanker leaked outside a hospital, disrupting supply to patients for around 30 minutes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and called the tragedy "heart-wrenching".
Last month, 10 bodies were recovered after a huge fire broke out at a mall in Mumbai where a hospital was treating Covid patients. Uddhav Thackeray had sought "forgiveness" from the families of those who lost lives, adding that some of those who died "could not be saved because they were on ventilators".