SALT, Jordan: Jordan’s health minister was forced to quit on Saturday after at least seven COVID-19 patients died when a hospital’s oxygen supply failed.
Hundreds of angry people gathered outside Al-Hussein Salt New Hospital, northwest of Amman, as news of the deaths spread.
King Abdullah visited the hospital and protesters surrounded his car as it neared the building. Security forces tried to keep the crowd at bay, as many shouted slogans demanding accountability.
In video footage online, a visibly angry Abdullah, shaking his head and gesticulating, tells the hospital director: “How could such a thing happen? This is unacceptable.”
Health Minister Nazir Obeidat said the hospital’s oxygen supply had failed between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., and he took “full moral responsibility” for what happened. “I have submitted my resignation to the prime minister,” he said.
Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh said he had accepted Obeidat's resignation and that the hospital’s director had been sacked. The head of health services for Balqaa province was suspended pending a judicial investigation, he said.
“What happened is a huge and flagrant mistake, unjustified and unacceptable. We cannot accept the death of a single Jordanian,” Khasawneh said. “The government alone assumes full responsibility for what happened.”
Relatives of the dead said the hospital had been suffering from a severe shortage of oxygen and medical staff. They called for the entire government to be held accountable.
Mohammad Klub, one of the relatives, told Arab News that the government should resign immediately. “How come such a thing happened in a hospital?” he said. “A housewife always checks the gas cylinder at her house and makes sure it’s full.”
Suleiman Khreisat, a retired nurse who lost two of his relatives, said the hospital had several shortcomings. “It suffers from a shortage of medical and nursing staff and now there is a shortage of oxygen,” he said. Patients were not receiving “their full medical right to treatment.” Another protester outside the hospital, Abu Abdullah, who also lost a relative, said: “Everyone who erred must be held responsible.”
The head of the national institute of forensics, Adnan Abbas, said the victims were four men and three women, all aged over 40, who had been on ventilators. “Lung specimens taken during autopsy indicated the deaths occurred due to a lack of oxygen,” he said.
Amman Attorney General Hassan Abdallat on Saturday said that five officials from the New Salt Hospital were ordered detained for one week at a correctional and rehabilitation centre over seven counts of charges of causing death by association.
Criticism of Jordan’s government has been mounting over its handling of the pandemic, with a record number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and a slow vaccine rollout.
Jordan has received 140,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab through the World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccine-sharing program. The government recently re-imposed a Friday curfew and extended lockdown hours.