A deadly hospital fire in western India early Saturday added to the country’s misery as it battles new global records in a staggering second wave of coronavirus cases that has left millions infected and put more stress on India’s already overtaxed health care system.
The blaze ripped through a Covid-19 ward in the city of Bharuch, killing at least 18 people — 16 of them patients, two of them health care workers — officials told local news outlets. Efforts were underway to determine the fire’s cause, and fire department officials said a short circuit might have led to the blaze.
The episode came as the United States announced that it would begin restricting travel from India next week as a surge of cases and deaths overwhelms the South Asian country, which continued its catastrophic run of record coronavirus transmissions on Saturday with more than 400,000 new reported cases and 3,500 deaths. No other country has surpassed 400,000 reported cases in a single day.
The second wave has crammed hospitals and left people dying as they wait to see doctors. Relatives of the sick are sharing pleas on social media for oxygen, medicine and other scarce supplies. There have been more than 19 million confirmed cases in India and more than 211,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database. Experts say the true numbers are probably much higher.
The country’s health system — fragile and underfunded even in normal times — is showing signs of strain. The fire in Bharuch, in Gujarat State, came after several recent accidents in Indian hospitals that have claimed the lives of Covid-19 patients.
A separate fire this week killed four people at a hospital in Surat, another city in Gujarat. At least 22 Covid-19 patients died at a hospital a few days earlier in the neighboring state of Maharashtra when a leak cut off their oxygen supply. And two days later, a fire at another hospital in Maharashtra left at least 13 Covid-19 patients dead.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences to the families of the victims in Bharuch, and Gujarat’s chief minister, Vijay Rupani, said the state government would give about $5,300 in aid to each victim’s family. Critics of Mr. Modi, who campaigned in large state election rallies and allowed a Hindu festival with millions of worshipers to take place even as infections rose, say his overconfidence and missteps contributed to the devastating second wave, tarnishing the prime minister’s aura of political invulnerability.