Oxygen availability in Goa ‘quite grim’, alarming rise in the number of COVID fatalities in the last two days

Published : May 13, 2021 11:09 IST

A couple bring an oxygen cylinder for a COVID-19 patient admitted at the Goa Medical College, on May 12. Photo: NITIN GAWDE/AFP

On May 11, a total of 26 deaths occurred between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at the Goa Medical College (GMC). Health Minister Vishwajit Rane was evasive about the cause. But sources in the hospital say all the patients were in critical care and it was primarily because of shortage of oxygen that they died. On May 12, there were 70 reported deaths because of COVID-19 in the State. Of these, 40 deaths were at the GMC. Sources say 21 of the 40 died in the ICU in the early hours of the day.

Speaking to the media on May 11, Vishwajit Rane said the State was facing an acute oxygen shortage and the fatalities could be because of interrupted oxygen supply. He said Goa required 1,200 cylinders of oxygen, but received just 400. He called for a High Court probe into the deaths, saying Chief Minister Pramod Sawant could be misguided by certain sections.

Sawant visited the GMC on May 11 to check the facilities there. He, too, did not confirm the cause of the deaths but alluded to a drop in oxygen levels as one reason. Sawant told mediapersons that the State had asked oxygen suppliers to speed up delivery and that they would be arranging for more efficient transportation.

Activists and opposition political parties have filed petitions over the government’s efforts to tackle the pandemic in the Goa High Court. Incidentally, a hearing on a petition that dealt with the oxygen shortage was held on May 12. The court rapped the State government for negligence in dealing with the poor oxygen supply. Calling the situation “quite grim”, the court said deaths under such conditions were a violation of the fundamental right to life. At the three-hour session, which was attended by several lawyers, senior State bureaucrats and activists, the court urged officials to ensure there were no deaths that night. It said: “We are long past the stage of determining whether patients are suffering from the lack of oxygen or not. The material placed before us establishes that patients are indeed suffering and, in some cases, succumbing for want of oxygen in the State of Goa.”

At another hearing in early May, the court asked the Dean of GMC to file affidavits stating the position of oxygen supply at the hospital and other State-run hospitals. The court said the affidavit must “indicate whether lack of oxygen supply continues to be the cause for any casualties”. The deaths on May 11 and 12 took place in the ICU in spite of this direction of the court. Goa has reported 1,874 deaths as of May 13.

Vishwajit Rane and Pramod Sawant have been at loggerheads for some time. Their differences are in the public domain and it is believed their sparring is hindering COVID-19 management and relief efforts.

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