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‘It was like hell’ – multiple Covid-19 patients reported dead at Yangon hospital after oxygen supply fails 

Multiple Covid-19 patients died at a hospital in Yangon on Saturday after a system supplying them with oxygen via wall-mounted pipes shut down, according to several witnesses.  

At least eight people succumbed to hypoxia on a single ward when the oxygen cut out at around 3.30am at the North Okkalapa General Hospital, one man who was caring for someone on the ward when the incident happened told Myanmar Now. 

“Many patients with serious symptoms died that night. It was like hell,” he said. 

The man, who had been at the hospital’s Isolation Ward 2 for around three weeks, said every Covid-19 patient who died was relying on the wall-mounted system.

Another 15 people died in the emergency room, he said, adding that an employee from the hospital’s mortuary had told him the bodies were not collected until the following afternoon. 

“I asked him why. He said that the oxygen line for the entire hospital was damaged and the number of deaths is high. There were so many deaths that there were not enough people to transport the bodies to the mortuary,” he said. 

Myanmar Now was unable to confirm the total number of deaths. Dr Kyi Soe, the hospital’s superintendent, could not be reached for comment.

The bodies of Covid-19 patients who died of hypoxia after their oxygen supply failed (Supplied)

Another man who was caring for someone on Isolation Ward 2 when the oxygen cut out said he saw a 30-year-old man and a 60-year-old woman die.

“At about 3am, a person who was breathing with the help of an oxygen machine suffered hypoxia,” he said. “That’s when we became aware of the problem. It was just the beginning. The oxygen levels of all the patients in the ward were dropping while we watched.” 

About 50 Covid-19 patients were staying on the ward, the sources said. 

One of those who died was Dr Shwe Tun, the 63-year-old vice-chairperson of the Shwe Pyae Sone hepatitis B prevention charity, a family member told Myanmar Now. The relative declined to give further details of the incident.

Another witness, who was taking care of both his mother and father at the hospital, said he saw the bodies of about nine patients who died of hypoxia on Isolation Ward 2, as well as more bodies from the intensive care unit. 

An hour after the oxygen failed, oxygen cylinders and concentrators were delivered to the hospital, but there were not enough for all the patients, the sources said. The supply came back on at around 8am.

It is unclear what caused the system to fail. The day before the incident the junta-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar reported that “insurgents” had destroyed the oxygen pipeline supplying the hospital’s intensive care unit. 

“Therefore, only 25 per cent of oxygen was supplied to the patients and it also caused casualties,” the report said. “The officials repaired the pipeline yesterday and provided the needed oxygen to the patients as usual.”

The witnesses from the isolation ward said the hospital was guarded by two military trucks, soldiers and police, and that they doubted outsiders could have come in and damaged the pipe. 

The son of a hospital staff member said he saw oxygen pipelines being repaired on July 22, two days before the incident on Saturday morning. He speculated that trucks damaged the pipelines, which run just below ground. 

“The pipeline is underground. When the big trucks came, I think the lines were hit and broken. It is unlikely that they were vandalised,” he said.

Another man who was caring for a patient at the hospital said that he saw a group of men enter the compound on the night of July 23, hours before the incident, and inspect the oxygen pipeline.  

“On that night, I don’t know whether they inspected or cut the line,” he said. “They came as a group. They pointed flashlights. I think they were from a governmental department. They came in plainclothes. I don’t know what kind of department it was.”

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