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Covid in India: Goan ministers play blame game over deaths due to oxygen shortage

Joydeep Sen Gupta/New Delhi
Filed on May 12, 2021
Goan Chief Minister Pramod Sawant visits Covid-19 wards in Goa Medical College and Hospital on Tuesday. — ANI

26 Covid-19 patients died in a state-run hospital as residents lament the state’s inadequate healthcare system

The coastal Indian state of Goa, known for its pristine beaches, sunshine, and a lush green landscape, has hit the headlines after 26 Covid-19 patients died on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday (May 10 and 11) between 2am and 6am due to an acute lack of oxygen.

Conrad Barreto, who runs a football event management company and a volunteer helping out the civil society to overcome tiny Goa’s monumental Covid-19 challenge, put the tragedy in perspective.

“The disaster was waiting to happen. Goa Medical College & Hospital (GMC&H) at Bambolim has been overwhelmed by the deadly contagion in the second and the latest phase. The state’s inadequate health care infrastructure and the laxity in manning its borders with neighbouring Maharashtra and Karnataka — both hotspots of the viral outbreak — were a recipe for disaster that struck in the run-up to the Easter holidays. Calangute beach in north Goa on New Year’s Day was a great advertisement for cocking a snook at the contagion, as over 10,000 revellers had gathered for a good time that has now come back to hit us hard,” an exasperated Barretto told Khaleej Times over the phone from Panaji, the capital of Goa.

Barretto squarely blamed the Pramod Sawant-led government for the Covid-19 mismanagement in the state, as the positivity rate of 37 per cent is alarmingly high in light of its relatively small population of less than two million.

Amid the unfolding human tragedy, the Sawant administration appears to be speaking with a forked tongue.

Though Goa Chief Minister Sawant claimed that there was no ‘shortage’ of oxygen, rather an acute manpower crunch to change cylinders after they were depleted, his minister for health & family welfare Vishwajit Rane refused to buy into the ‘mismanagement’ excuse.

Rane exposed CM Sawant and claimed that he was misled as a severe crunch of liquid medical oxygen —the lifeline for Covid-19 patients in India’s “Variant of Concern” — is genuine and cannot be wished away.

The Goa Bench of Bombay High Court (HC) appeared to back Rane on Wednesday and rapped the state government and its authorities.

The HC cited that Covid-19 patients' deaths due to lack of oxygen are a gross infringement of the Right of Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

The court has ordered that all efforts must be made to ensure the needs of the state are met at the earliest.

Ground realities corroborated the tragic tale.

The GMC&H, which has 10 Covid-19 wards with 28 beds each, has over 1,000 patients and an overwhelming majority are lying on the corridors of the state-run healthcare facility unattended and discarded by overburdened and inadequate personnel battling the viral scourge.

Rane weighed in on the emergency situation. “GMC&H is overburdened. The consumption of oxygen is unprecedented and we’re facing a massive shortage. For instance, on Tuesday, we needed 1,200 oxygen cylinders, but managed to get only 400. It’s a shortage and not logistics that accentuated the crisis,” he added.

Goans like information technology (IT) professional Ashley Delaney, whose father-in-law has been struck by Covid-19 and is undergoing treatment at GMC&H, has questioned the Sawant government’s move to give a 10-year contract to the only oxygen-manufacturing plant in the state, Scoop Industries. He insinuated at ‘vested interests’ that could be at the heart of the ‘sweetheart deal’.

Delaney, whose father-in-law, Joseph Alvares, 69, has been on ventilator support at the facility, spoke out about the sorry state of affairs. “The oxygen crisis has been acute since Goa started reporting an explosion of daily Covid-19 cases since the middle of April. My father-in-law contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, on April 21. It’s taking inordinately long to get the test results and, at times, even over a week,” said Delaney, who also doubles up as a Red Cross volunteer in his spare time.

Ralina D’ Souza, a Kuwait City-based assistant manager, human resources, too, echoed Delaney.

D’Souza’s father-in-law, Albino D’Souza, 66, also contracted the viral infection on April 21, but the test result came after a good one week.

“He failed to find a bed at GMC&H and spent five days on the floor in the facility and suffered a paralytic stroke two days later and died shortly after that,” D’Souza told Khaleej Times from Kuwait City over the phone.

Or, take the case of another Goa resident, Tina Cordeiro, who lost her sister, 49, and is too grief-stricken to narrate the tragedy at length.

Goa recorded 75 deaths of Covid-19 patients, including 48 at GMC&H alone, on Tuesday, the highest single-day toll since the onset of the pandemic last year.

The state also recorded 3,124 new infections on the same day.

Goa, which was largely insulated from the viral outbreak in the first wave till Mangor Hill in rural Vasco report in June-July, 2020, has come full circle and jumped on India’s contagion bandwagon, and with no immediate respite in sight.

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