Nine patients who had been hospitalized in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz after contracting coronavirus died after a burst pipe cut off their oxygen supply, Russian news agencies reported on Monday.
The accident comes as Russia battles a surge in COVID-19 cases, with the country logging the fourth-highest number of registered cases behind Brazil, India and the United States.
"Nine patients with coronavirus died due to the lack of oxygen at the Republic Clinical Hospital of Vladikavkaz," Russian news agencies cited the ministry as saying.
The pipe had been supplying an intensive care ward in the republic of North Ossetia with the necessary oxygen. The part of the pipe that ruptured was underground.
"A total of 71 people were in intensive care, not all were receiving oxygen supply," TASS news agency cited the local Health Ministry as saying.
"Medical staff has started to connect the patients who are on ventilators to oxygen tanks. Oxygen tanks have started to arrive," acting head of North Ossetia Sergei Menyailo said.
Official denies supply issues
However, Menyailo also claimed that the lungs of the nine patients had suffered "90% damage" before the rupture, meaning that their deaths could not be blamed on the malfunction. The problem was "promptly detected and eliminated within 30 to 40 minutes" he added.
He went on to say that the region has no problem in supplying its hospitals with oxygen.
The Russian state health regulator Roszdravnadzor will launch an investigation into the incident, the Interfax news agency reported.
It is not the first time that coronavirus patients have died in accidents at Russian hospitals. At least five people died when a ventilator caught fire in Saint Petersburg last year. In June of this year another three people died in a hospital fire in Ryazan, with a faulty ventilator again believed to have been the cause.
Russia has the highest official coronavirus death toll in Europe, having recorded over 165,000 deaths. It is also the fourth worst-hit globally in terms of recorded cases.