(Photo by ATISH PATEL/AFP via Getty Images)

AT LEAST 22 patients died on Wednesday (21) in a hospital in western India after a disruption to their oxygen supply caused by a leaking tank, the health minister said, as a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases soaks up supplies of the crucial gas.

The incident in the city of Nashik, one of India’s worst-hit areas, happened after the tank of gas leaked, said Rajesh Tope, the health minister of Maharashtra, the richest state, where the city is located.

“Patients who were on ventilators at the hospital in Nashik have died,” Tope said in televised remarks.

“The leakage was spotted at the tank supplying oxygen to these patients. The interrupted supply could be linked to the deaths of the patients in the hospital.”

The world’s second most populous nation reported 295,041 new infections on Wednesday for the world’s highest daily rise, stretching its hospitals to breaking point, officials said.

Only the US had a slightly higher one-day rise of 297,430 cases in January, though its tally has since fallen sharply. India’s 2,023 deaths were also its highest in the pandemic.

On Tuesday (20), hospitals in Delhi, the capital, said they had enough oxygen left for just another eight to 24 hours, while some private institutions had enough for only four or five.