9 COVID-19 patients dead in fire at Mumbai mall hospital

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(Eds: adds details) Mumbai, Mar 26 (PTI) Nine coronavirus patients died in a fire at a COVID-19 hospital in a Mumbai mall on Friday, civic officials said, adding more misery to a state that has emerged as the hardest hit in the pandemic.

All nine patients died due to suffocation as a result of the fire while two other patients at the hospital had already died due to coronavirus before the fire broke out, the BMC said in a statement.

The hospital, however, claimed that there was no casualty due to the fire.

'All the patients were shifted alive but there were a few patients on ventilator and were extremely critical. We believe the casualties are not due to the fire, but either in transit or at other hospitals (where they were shifted), it said.

The hospital had earlier said two deceased were coronavirus patients who were already dead from the disease when the fire broke out. The BMC also confirmed this claim.

The fire brigade and police are probing the cause of the fire, the BMC statement said.

The fire broke out at the Sunrise Hospital in the Dreams Mall building in Bhandup area around midnight, a BMC official said. The hospital is situated on the top floor of the four-storeyed building.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who visited the spot in the afternoon said strict action will be taken against those found responsible for the fire.

Thackeray apologised to the families of the victims and announced Rs 5 lakh to the kin of each deceased.

Thackeray said permission was granted to the hospital last year to run a COVID-19 centre temporarily.

The blaze comes amid an upsurge in coronavirus cases in Mumbai. On Thursday, the city logged 5,504 new infections, the highest daily count since the pandemic began.

Altogether 78 patients were being treated at the 107- bed hospital when the fire broke out, the BMC said, adding 67 patients were shifted to other hospitals after the blaze.

The cause of the fire has not been ascertained yet, the BMC said. The fire fighting operation went on till 8 pm on Friday, an official added.

Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar who visited the site expressed surprise that a hospital was operating inside the mall.

'I have seen a hospital at a mall for the first time,' the mayor said, adding action will be taken if irregularities were found in allowing the facility to operate there.

The hospital in a statement said, 'There was a fire on the first floor of Dreams Mall, Bhandup and the smoke reached up to the Sunrise Hospital located on the top floor. When fire alarms sounded, all patients were safely evacuated to the fire refuge area as the smoke was reaching the hospital.' A civic official said the BMC had issued notice to the mall last year for allegedly flouting fire safety norms.

Former NCP MP Sanjay Patil said he had written to the BMC commissioner last year drawing the civic body's attention to the alleged flouting of fire safety norms there.

President Ram Nath Kovind mourned the loss of lives in the hospital fire. 'My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this tragedy. I pray for speedy recovery of the injured,' he tweeted.

'Pained by the loss of lives due to a fire at a hospital in Mumbai. I pray that the injured recover soon,' Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

'Pained by the loss of lives in a fire incident at a COVID care hospital in Mumbai, Maharashtra. My condolences to the bereaved families & prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured,' Vice President Venkaiah Naidu tweeted. PTI ZA ND VT VT VT