Iraq: A fire at an Iraqi hospital’s coronavirus isolation ward has killed at least 52 patients, the second such fatal incident in a COVID-19 unit in three months.
Late Monday, a fire broke out at the Al-Hussein hospital in the southern city of Nasiriya, which was quickly put out by civil defense personnel.
A medical source with the health directorate told AFP news agency the “main reason behind the fire… was the explosion of oxygen tanks”.
Haydar al-Zamili, the local health authority’s spokesperson, said early on Tuesday that 52 bodies had been retrieved while 22 people had been hurt after the fire had “ripped through the Covid isolation ward”.
“The victims died of burns and the search is continuing,” he added, noting that there were fears people could still be trapped inside the building.
There were 70 beds in the unit.
According to Reuters, the death toll may increase since many patients are still missing. They claimed two health professionals were among the deceased.
Search efforts at the hospital in Nasiriya are ongoing, according to health authorities, although heavy smoke is making it impossible to access parts of the burnt-out units.
“Many people have taken to the streets in Nasiriya and in front of the hospital,” said Abdelwahed, who said that the manager of the hospital had resigned.
According to a Reuters witness, enraged relatives fought with police, setting fire to two police cars.
“Corrupt officials must be held accountable for the fire and killing innocent patients. Where is my father’s body,” said one young man as he searched among charred bodies wrapped in blankets in the hospital’s courtyard.
According to Abdelwahed, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has also proclaimed a state of emergency in the province of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriya is situated.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi also declared a state of emergency in the governorate of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriya is located, Abdelwahed reported.
A small fire broke out inside the health ministry’s offices in Baghdad earlier on Monday, but it was swiftly put out and no deaths were reported.
The hospital fire in Nasiriya is the second such catastrophe this year.
A fire at the COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad in April was started by the explosion of improperly stored oxygen cylinders, killing 82 people and injuring 110 more.
Many of the fatalities were on respirators and were burnt or smothered in the ensuing fire, which quickly spread across the hospital, where hundreds of families were visiting patients in the critical care section.
Hassan al-Tamimi, the health minister at the time, resigned.
More than 1.4 million coronavirus infections have been reported in Iraq, with over 17,000 fatalities.