Updated: May 12, 2021 7:32:43 am
On a day that Goa reported 75 Covid deaths, its highest single-day coronavirus fatalities, the Health Minister and Chief Minister of the BJP government appeared to differ over the cause of death of 26 patients overnight at the state’s largest Covid facility and whether it was due to shortage of oxygen.
Health Minister Vishwajit Rane called for a High Court probe into the deaths at Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), between 2 am and 6 am on the night of Monday-Tuesday, saying these could be due to oxygen shortage, and that CM Pramod Sawant might be “misguided”.
Sawant, who visited Covid-19 wards at GMCH in a PPE kit Tuesday morning, held a meeting in the evening with hospital officials, after which he said a delay in oxygen supply may have led to a drop in pressure in the central supply at the hospital, adding that it could not be said if the deaths were due to it.
Asked about the deaths pointed out by Rane, GMCH Dean S M Bandekar told reporters, “We have to obtain the details (of the causes).”
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GMCH saw 48 Covid deaths Tuesday, of the 75 reported across the state. According to the mortality bulletin released by the government, the antecedent cause for a majority of these were Covid-19, Covid-19 pneumonia, bilateral Covid pneumonia and severe bilateral severe Covid pneumonia.
The CM said they had asked oxygen suppliers in the state to ensure GMCH got its supply in 25 minutes. “We have also asked the supplier to ensure minimum 55 trolleys of oxygen and 600 jumbo cylinders. The supplier has been asked to speed up, and additional vehicles and drivers are being provided to ensure that oxygen reaches GMCH within 25 minutes, only then can the pressure be maintained.”
Asked about Rane’s claims of 26 deaths at GMCH due to oxygen shortage, Sawant said, “How many patients died because of only drop in oxygen levels or other reasons is something only the doctors can say. I am not an expert.” In an affidavit filed in the High Court of Bombay at Goa on Tuesday, the Goa government said the Centre had increased its oxygen allocation from 11 MT to 26 MT, and that it procured 35 MT from suppliers — against a need of 55 MT per day.
Incidentally, the High Court, while hearing a bunch of PILs filed last week, asked the Dean, GMCH, and Director of Health Services Tuesday to file affidavits stating the position of oxygen supply at the hospital and three other state-run hospitals by Wednesday. The court said the affidavit must “indicate whether lack of oxygen supply continues to be the cause for any casualties”.
Rane said while GMCH needed 1,200 jumbo oxygen cylinders on Monday, it got only 400 . “I think the CM needs to inquire into the causes behind the deaths between 2 am and 6 am and question the three nodal officers (appointed to oversee GMCH functioning)… The High Court can also set up an expert committee to inquire into this. In fact it is better if the High Court does it,” he said.
According to Rane, the period between 2 am and 6 am is critical and doctors and nurses at GMCH are “brought to tears” during this time. “Let the High Court order an inquiry into the entire Covid management at GMCH. I have no problem because my conscience is clear… I think someone has misguided him (Sawant) or misinterpreted something.”
As the largest Covid facility in Goa, GMCH accounts for most of its deaths, with the state recording between 46 and 75 daily fatalities all of May. Over the last couple of weeks, its positivity was as high as 45-50%, coming down to 36% on Tuesday. As per the daily mortality bulletins released by the Goa government, of the 561 Covid deaths from May 1 to May 10, 331 were reported from GMCH. Goa saw 3,124 new cases Tuesday, pushing its total active cases to 32,836.
The Goa government has been criticised over its handling of the Covid crisis. On Monday, in a decision that has been questioned by experts, the Sawant government said it will be offering ivermectin to all above the age of 18 in the state, irrespective of Covid-19 symptoms, as prophylactic. The decision came even as the state’s vaccination programme for the 18-44 age group is yet to take off and is expected to start only by the third week of May.
Goa Congress chief Girish Chodankar pointed out that the WHO website clearly says ivermectin can be used only to treat Covid-19 patients within clinical trials.
It is not the first airing of differences by Sawant and Rane, a former Congressman who joined the BJP in 2017, over the Covid crisis. On April 26, Rane tweeted that if a lockdown was not enforced for at least a month, Goa would see 200-300 deaths over the next 10 days. He had later retracted the tweet, even as Sawant said it was the first he had heard of Rane’s support for a lockdown.
On the day the CM announced a 15-day “curfew” in Goa, Rane told a news channel, “They (the restrictions) should have come much earlier… Sometimes, administratively, economically, you need to take decisions that have a balance… This is one of those cases where we have made some error in judgment.”
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