Read Editorial with D2G – Ep 473

The Indian Express

Fire and pandemic

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Meanings are given in BOLD

At least 10 COVID patients were asphyxiated ( kill (someone) by depriving them of air ) when a makeshift ( acting as an interim and temporary measure )  hospital in Vijayawada caught fire on Sunday. More than 20 other patients and six medical personnel were reportedly present in the hotel-turned COVID-care facility when a short circuit in the building’s air-conditioning unit flared ( (especially of an item of clothing) having a shape that widens progressively towards the end or bottom ) into a blaze ( a very large or fiercely burning fire ).

Andhra Pradesh’s health minister A K Krishna Srinivas has blamed ( feel or declare that (someone or something) is responsible for a fault or wrong ) Ramesh Hospital, which had rented ( pay someone for the use of (something, typically property, land, or a car) )  the hotel, for failing to check if the temporary facility adhered ( stick fast to (a surface or substance) )  to fire safety norms.

He has accused ( a person or group of people who are charged with or on trial for a crime ) private hospitals of taking “advantage of people’s fears of the virus and their reluctance ( unwillingness or disinclination to do something ) to take treatment at government hospitals by charging exorbitant ( (of a price or amount charged) unreasonably high ) fees in the name of good treatment”. He has a point.

But the Vijayawada blaze also frames the failure of the state in not using the lockdown period to mobilise ( (of a country or its government) prepare and organize (troops) for active service )  amenities for COVID patients. It’s evident that safety concerns were given short shrift ( confession, especially to a priest ) in the scramble ( move hurriedly or clumsily from or into a particular place or position ) for standby arrangements, after Andhra Pradesh’s COVID caseload ( the number of cases with which a doctor, lawyer, or social worker is concerned at one time ) began to increase.

It is no rocket science that, with their breathing capacity compromised by the viral attack, COVID patients are particularly vulnerable to any incident that affects their oxygen intake — exposure to smoke that contains carbon monoxide could have fatal ( leading to failure or disaster )  consequences ( a result or effect, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant ) for them. Some countries have issued fire safety guidelines in the aftermath ( the consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event ) of the pandemic.

But it’s unfortunate that in India, where innumerable ( too many to be counted (often used hyperbolically) ) buildings are tinderboxes — the country accounts for nearly a fifth of the serious fire accidents in the world according to the Global Disease Burden Study 2017 — no special measure or awareness campaign was initiated to obviate ( remove (a need or difficulty) ) fire hazards during the health crisis.

Accidents in COVID-care facilities have followed a playbook made familiar by past instances of fires in hotels, coaching centres, cinema halls and hospitals — authorities reacting too late to violations of safety protocols. Last week, for instance, a blaze ( a very large or fiercely burning fire )  swept ( move or push (someone or something) with great force )  through an Ahmedabad hospital suffocating at least eight COVID patients to death — the hospital, reportedly, did not have a fire safety certificate.

Similarly, in the FIR lodged after the Vijayawada tragedy, the area’s Mandal Revenue Officer is reported to have alleged that the staff of both the hospital and hotel knew about the fire hazards in the makeshift facility, and yet did not bother to conduct repairs.After the tragedies in Ahmedabad and Vijayawada, the chief ministers of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh have asked fire safety personnel to conduct safety audits of COVID-care facilities.

Other states should follow suit. But the ripples ( a gentle rising and falling sound that spreads through a group of people )  caused by fire accidents in the country usually do not take long to die down. It’s high time, therefore, that measures are taken to root out the culture of cutting corners on safety.

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