At least 44 killed, dozens injured in coronavirus hospital fire in Iraq

People inspect the damage at the site where a fire broke out at a coronavirus hospital. Source: Reuters.

NASSIRIYA: At least 44 people were killed and over 67 injured in a fire likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Iraq’s southern city of Nassiriya, health officials and police said.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defense managers in Nassiriya, his office said in a statement. The manager of the hospital was also suspended and ordered to be arrested

Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million.

Health officials at Nassiriya said search operations at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital were continuing after the fire was brought under control, but thick smoke was making it difficult to enter some of the burnt wards.

“Raging fires have trapped many patients inside the coronavirus ward and rescue teams are struggling to reach them,” a health worker said before entering the burning building.

Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion inside the hospital’s COVID-19 wards was the likely cause of the fire, a policeman at the scene of the fire said.

The death toll could rise as many patients were still missing. Two health workers were among the dead. Angry relatives gathered in front of the hospital and clashed with police, setting fire to two police vehicles.

Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million.

Iraqis also suffer frequent accidents due to under-investment, corruption and wrecked infrastructure. During the coronavirus crisis, hospitals have struggled with an influx of patients and short supplies. In April, a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad killed at least 82 people and injured 110 others.