Hospital fire kills 18 virus patients as India steps up jabs

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Instructions for COVID-19 patients are seen on a signage in Gujarati next to damaged equipments after a deadly fire at the Welfare Hospital in Bharuch, western India, Saturday, May 1, 2021. The fire in a COVID-19 ward of the hospital killed multiple patients early Saturday, as the country grappling with the worst outbreak yet steps up a vaccination drive for all its adults even though some states say don't have enough jabs. (AP Photo/Viral Rana)

NEW DELHI – A fire in a COVID-19 hospital ward in western India killed 18 patients early Saturday, as the country grappling with the worst outbreak yet stepped up a vaccination drive for all adults even as some states said they don't have enough jabs.

India on Saturday set yet another daily global record with 401,993 new cases, taking its tally to more than 19.1 million. Another 3,523 people died in the past 24 hours, raising the overall fatalities to 211,853, according to the Health Ministry. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

The fire broke out in a COVID-19 ward on the ground floor of the Welfare Hospital in Bharuch, a town in Gujarat state, and was extinguished within an hour, police said. The cause is being investigated.

Thirty-one other patients were rescued from the blaze by hospital workers and firefighters and their condition was stable, said police officer B.M Parmar. Late last month, a fire in an intensive care unit killed 13 COVID-19 patients in the Virar area on the outskirts of Mumbai.

India’s government on Saturday shifted its faltering vaccination campaign into high gear by saying all adults 18 and over could get shots. Since January, nearly 10% of Indians have received one dose, but only around 1.5% have received both, although India is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines.

Some states have already said they don’t have enough doses for everyone, and even the ongoing effort to inoculate people above 45 is sputtering.

The state of Maharashtra has said it won’t be able to start the expanded vaccinations on Saturday. The health minister for the capital New Delhi, Satyender Jain, said earlier this week that the city doesn’t have enough doses to vaccinate people between the ages of 18 and 44.

India’s capital also extended its week-old lockdown by another week to curb the explosive surge in virus cases, tweeted Arvind Kejriwal, a top elected official.