Eight private jets carrying India’s super wealthy—and potentially the coronavirus—landed in London ahead of the U.K.’s 4 a.m. ban on travel from India, according to the London Times. The U.K. added India to its “red list” of pandemic-stricken countries. As of Friday, any Britons returning from India must quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel. All non-British or non-Irish citizens will be banned entirely from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to cancel his own state visit to India scheduled for next week as a “precautionary measure.”
The last of the luxury airliners to arrive, VistaJet Bombardier Global 6000, which left Dubai Thursday to collect passengers in Mumbai, landed at 3:15 a.m., just 44 minutes before the restrictions took place.
The private jet passengers were fleeing unimaginable horror back home. At least 14 COVID-19 patients perished in a devastating fire that ripped through an ICU ward in one of India’s overcrowded hospitals about 70 miles outside Mumbai. The fire that broke out around 3 a.m. Friday morning was contained and extinguished, but not before 14 patients—many who were intubated and hard to evacuate—had died. “Around 90 patients were admitted to the hospital at the time of the incident,” Dilip Shah, the head of the Vijay Vallabh Hospital where it happened, said in a statement Friday.
One eyewitness, Avinash Patil, told reporters outside the hospital that no doctors were present at the time. “I got a call at around 3 a.m. from a friend whose mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital,” he said. “As I reached the hospital, I saw fire engines outside. The ICU on the second floor was engulfed in smoke. Only two nurses were there, and I couldn’t see a doctor. It took firefighters about half an hour to put out the flames. We could see eight-10 bodies there.”
Shah, the hospital chief, insisted all safety norms were followed and that “doctors were present,” according to local media reports.
Earlier in the week, an oxygen leak in Maharashtra state, near where the fire broke out, resulted in the death of 24 COVID-19 patients who were on ventilators.
To make terrible matters even worse, India reported its highest one-day number of cases, recording 332,730 new infections in a 24-hour period. In the same period, 2,263 people died with COVID-19.
India has been overwhelmed by new cases coupled with a critical shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, and now ventilators. Many desperate families have been forced to turn to black-market price gougers who have been able to buy hospital space from corrupt administrators.
The spike in cases comes as political rallies are still being held and after a month-long religious ceremony continues to bring millions of people to the Ganges River.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized for not calling a national lockdown to try to mitigate the spread and for hosting rallies ahead of elections in May. Government officials have said the previous lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic was economically devastating to many manual laborers who then traveled by foot from home cities to their villages, carrying the virus with them.
Modi called the ICU fire “tragic” and offered condolences over Twitter. Many of the comments on his tweet begged him to call a national lockdown to try to save lives.
In a shocking expose published in Time magazine, Indian journalist Rana Ayyub paints a horrific picture from the ground, writing about states essentially hijacking oxygen trucks and stealing supplies for their own hospitals, and disturbing allegations of underreporting deaths. Ayyub lays the blame for the debacle squarely on Modi’s shoulders, accusing him of ignoring the fact that his Trump-style rallies are super-spreader events, and for letting the ball drop on vaccines.
“Why was India caught unprepared as the second wave ravaged a cross-section of Indian society?” Ayyub writes. “The responsibility lies with a strongman regime that has ignored all caution.”