- The Uttar Pradesh government has said it will carry out an inquiry
- Owner bragged about how the hospital shut off oxygen supply on April 27
- Agra DM claimed there was no death due to lack of oxygen on that day
A prominent private hospital in Uttar Pradesh's Agra was closed by authorities on Tuesday after its owner was allegedly caught on audio bragging about how the hospital shut off oxygen supply on April 27 for five minutes in a "mock drill" amid what the owner purportedly claimed was an acute shortage of oxygen at his hospital during a raging Covid surge in the western UP town, and elsewhere in the state. The Uttar Pradesh government had ordered an inquiry into the incident after outrage.
"We were told that even the Chief Minister cannot get oxygen, so start discharging patients. Modi Nagar is dry. We started counseling families. Some were willing to listen but the others said they would not leave. I said ok let's do a mock drill. We will find out who will die and who will survive. So we did that at 7 am. A mock drill was done. No one knows. Then we identified 22 patients. We realised they would die. This was done for 5 minutes. They started turning blue," Arinjay Jain, the owner of Shree Paras Hospital, can be purportedly heard saying in the 1.5-minute audio clip from April 28.
The hospital also has a Covid facility within its premises.
In a statement to the media, Agra District Magistrate Prabhu N Singh claimed there was no death due to lack of oxygen on that day the alleged video was recorded. However, he said, "We have filed a case against them under the Epidemic Diseases Act. The police will conduct an investigation. The hospital is being sealed. All 55 patients are being shifted out."
Earlier, in a statement, Mr Singh had said, "Initially, there was some panic and shortage but we sorted all that out in 48 hours. In this hospital, there have been seven Covid deaths on the 26th and 27th of April. There is no truth that 22 people died but we will carry out an inquiry."
After the audio clip was widely circulated, the hospital owner indicated that his statements were misinterpreted. "We too had received instructions from the administration for judicious and rational use of oxygen. In the third week of April, we categories our patients into those who were on high flow and those on low flow (of oxygen)," Mr Jain said.
"We had to find out the oxygen dependency of the patients to understand how we can handle the situation if there is an oxygen shortage or if the supply gets over... Mock drill means taking stock of the situation before facing an issue, to understand how to work in emergency. We had categorised the patients...We categorised Covid patients to see which patient needs how much oxygen... Mock drill does not mean switching off a patient's oxygen. We did not switch off oxygen. I did not clearly say so in the video. I said a mock drill was done at 7 am. In this, 22 patients were segregated."
Top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi condemned the incident, hitting out at the ruling BJP. "There is a severe shortage of both oxygen and humanity under the BJP rule," he said in a Hindi tweet, calling for swift action against those responsible for the "dangerous crime". He also offered his condolences to the families of those who died allegedly due to the oxygen shortage.
Visuals of desperate people lining up outside oxygen plans around the state had hit headlines in April, and many hospitals treating coronavirus patients across Uttar Pradesh had repeatedly complained of oxygen shortages. In most cases, the state government had denied that there was a shortage and claimed all efforts were made to supply oxygen on time. Criminal action was also taken against a Lucknow hospital for allegedly lying about oxygen shortage.
An earlier version of the story had wrongly named Paras Hospital. This has been corrected to Shree Paras Hospital.