At least 51 deaths were reported and 69 others were injured in a coronavirus hospital fire in Iraq’s southern city of Nassiriya, which was likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion, according to health authorities and police.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi conducted urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defense officials in Nassiriya, his office said in a statement, as rescuers searched the smoke-charred structure for more remains.
The hospital’s management was also suspended and ordered to be detained, according to the statement.
Iraq’s healthcare system, already ravaged by war and sanctions, has failed to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 17,592 people and infected over 1.4 million.
After the fire was put out, health authorities in Nassiriya reported that search efforts at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital were ongoing, but that dense smoke was making it difficult to reach parts of the charred wards.
According to initial police reports, an oxygen tank explosion within the hospital’s COVID-19 wards was the likely origin of the incident, according to a police officer on the site.
“I heard a big explosion inside the coronavirus wards and then fire had erupted very quickly,” said Ali Muhsin, a hospital guard who was helping carrying wounded patients away from fires.
The death toll from Monday’s fire might climb, according – health officials, because several patients were still missing. They claimed two health personnel were among the dead.