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Kin of Agra hospital’s COVID-19 victims demand probe

Owner of facility allegedly talked of conducting a ‘mock-drill’ to check which patient would survive if oxygen support was pulled off

The kin of patients who died at a hospital in Agra have demanded a high-level probe into, and the arrest of the owner of, a hospital after a video of him was circulated in which he allegedly talks of conducting a “mock-drill” to check which patient would survive if oxygen support was pulled off.

Among the victims was police Head Constable Ashok Kumar Singh’s wife, who died on April 26 at Shri Paras Hospital. She was admitted on April 25. Mr. Singh has demanded a high-level probe into the matter. “This was a deliberate act. The doctor of the hospital should be arrested. We want justice,” he said.

On the morning of April 26, he says he received a call from the hospital at around 5 a.m. “The doctor said there was a scarcity of oxygen, so shift your patient elsewhere. But when I reached the hospital, they said they could manage for an hour or so more. They also asked me to arrange our own cylinders,” said Mr. Singh.

The Head Constable, who has five children, also claims that he was not allowed to see his wife on the day of her death.

The matter came to light on Tuesday after the owner of Shri Paras Hospital was heard in a video allegedly bragging about how the hospital shut off oxygen supply for five minutes on April 27 as part of a “mock drill” to see which patients would survive and which would die as a way to handle the scarcity of oxygen during the peak of the second wave.

Twenty-two patients started turning blue while 74 others survived, the owner of Paras Hospital, Arinjay Jain, could be heard saying in the video which was widely shared on social media. Following a preliminary probe, District Magistrate (DM) N. Prabhu ordered an FIR against Mr. Jain under the Epidemics Act, while the hospital was sealed and doctor’s license suspended.

The DM, however, stated that there were no deaths due to lack of oxygen in the hospital on the said days, April 26 and 27. On April 26 and 27, seven patients had died at the hospital, the administration said, dismissing the figure of 22 persons whose oxygen flow was adjusted in the “mock-drill” following which they had turned blue.

Mr. Singh does not trust the administration’s claim. “If there was no shortage, then why did they [the hospital] call us at 5 a.m. that day, informing us to take our patients elsewhere?” he asked. When he reached the hospital that morning, he says he found his wife’s oxygen flow had reduced.

Vishal Sharma, a journalist with a Hindi daily, lost his mother to COVID-19 at the hospital. While there was an oxygen crisis at the hospital and in the district on April 26 and 27, he says he never doubted the integrity of the doctors and thought it was destiny that his mother had lost the battle to the virus. However, Mr. Jain’s admission of a mock drill has ignited doubt in his mind and he thinks there had been some “misdoing”. “The doctor is saying it all himself,” he said.

Mr. Sharma claims that on the day of his mother’s death, they were not allowed to view the patients through the CCTV, as attendants were usually allowed to, since they were not permitted inside the COVID-19 ward.

Mr. Sharma says the FIR lodged against the hospital under the Epidemics Act was “an eyewash”.

“They should take such action that these things don’t repeat,” he said.

Mr. Sharma also alleged that he came to know of his mother’s death when bodies were being taken out of the wards, and that the hospital staff did not inform him.

The kin of patients also claim that the number of people who died at the hospital on the two days was much higher than the official figure of seven.

Two members of the Chawla family died at the hospital on April 26 and 27. Mayank Chawla, a student, lost his grandfather and aunt. He rubbishes the official claim that no deaths happened due to lack of oxygen. His family has demanded that the hospital owner be booked for culpable homicide and says the district administration had made the claim about the oxygen supply to clear itself of any wrongdoing. Mr. Chawla demanded a probe by a state-level agency. His father, Ashok Chawla, claims that the 22 patients identified by Mr. Jain as those who could not survive the cutting off of oxygen in the video, included his father.

Mr. Jain had on Tuesday clarified that his words in the video were being misconstrued and claimed that by “mock-drill” he had not meant the hospital shut down the central oxygen supply.

“It was not cut-off,” he said. Mr. Jain said the hospital “adjusted” oxygen flow to the beds according to need for the “rational” use of oxygen.

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