Jordan's Health Minister Resigns After Hospital Oxygen Shortage Kills Seven COVID Patients

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Civil defense members stand outside the new Salt government hospital in Salt, Jordan, today.
Civil defense members stand outside the new Salt government hospital in Salt, Jordan, today. Credit: REUTERS

Jordan’s health minister stepped down Saturday after at least seven patients in a COVID-19 patient ward died at a hospital near the capital Amman due to a shortage of oxygen supplies, Jordanian state media reported.

Hours later, King Abdullah II arrived at the Salt government hospital to help calm angry families who had gathered outside. 

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"How can a hospital like this see something like this happening?" he said on entering the multi-million-dollar hospital, which went into operation only last August.

Director of the pathology division Adnaan Abbas said all those who died were coronavirus patients, and the cause of death was lack of oxygen. The oxygen outage lasted for over 40 minutes, local reports said. 

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh ordered an investigation into the deaths early Saturday morning at the Salt government hospital, 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Amman.

In a public apology, he said his government bore full responsibility for the incident.

"This is a gross mistake that cannot be justified or accepted. I feel ashamed of it and won't justify it," Khaswaneh said, adding that he was awaiting the results of a judicial investigation.

King Abdullah and the prime minister asked Health Minister Nathir Obeidat to resign, according to the reports. Abdullah also called for the suspension of the hospital director. The Al-Rai newspaper, a government mouthpiece, confirmed that Obeidat had resigned. Some Jordanian lawmakers called for the entire government to resign. 

Jordan, home to 10 million people, is grappling with surging coronavirus infections and deaths and struggling to secure vaccines.
About 150 relatives of the patients gathered outside the hospital, which was surrounded by a large deployment of police and security officers, who prevented the families from entering.

One of those waiting anxiously outside was Fares Kharabsha, whose parents are COVID-19 patients. He was inside when the oxygen ran out in the ward and said medical and civil defense workers and people from outside the hospital rushed with portable oxygen devices to try to prevent more deaths. “They resuscitated a large number of people, including my father and mother,” he said. “I do not know how many, but I saw people who died.”

Another relative, Habis Kharabsha, complained of a lack of sufficient services at the hospital. “At the isolation department, there was only one doctor and two nurses for 50 or 60 patients; this is mad,” he said.

The Middle Eastern kingdom has reported over 465,000 cases and more than 5,200 deaths during the pandemic. Last month, it tightened restrictions, restoring weekend lockdown and nighttime curfews, to curb the spread of the virus.

Jordan launched its vaccination drive in mid-January with plans to inoculate over 4 million residents in 2021. On Friday, the country received 144,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine delivered through the global COVAX initiative.

The COVAX alliance aims to share COVID-19 vaccines with more than 90 lower- and middle-income nations. However, the program is facing delays, underfunding and limited supplies.

The EU has allocated 8 million euros to support Jordan’s purchase of vaccines. A second shipment from COVAX is expected in April.

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