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Covid ward fire, 52 dead and 22 wounded

Nasiriyah: Health officials say 52 people died and 22 were wounded after a fire engulfed a coronavirus isolation ward at an Iraqi hospital on Monday.

A fire broke out at the Al-Hussein hospital late Monday in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, but it was quickly brought under control by local civil defence forces. ‘The main cause of the fire… was the explosion of oxygen tanks,’ a medical source with the health directorate told the media.

Haydar al-Zamili, the local health authority’s spokesperson, said on Tuesday that 52 bodies had been retrieved and another 22 people had been injured after the fire ‘ripped through the Covid isolation ward’.

‘The victims died of burns and the search continues,’ he said, adding that there were fears that people might still be trapped inside the building. There were 70 beds in the ward.

The deadly fire at the hospital is the second in three months in Iraq. Dozens of young demonstrators protested outside the hospital. They chanted in unison, ‘The (political) parties have burned us’.

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The fire also prompted furious calls for the resignation of top officials on social media. Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar Governorate, declared a state of emergency and ordered all doctors on leave to treat the injured.

The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi tweeted on Tuesday that the prime minister held an urgent meeting with ministers and security heads to ‘discover the cause’ of the blaze.

Police detained and questioned Dhi Qar’s health chief and the hospital’s head, his office said.

Moreover, Kadhemi dispatched emergency medical aid to the southern governorate.

‘The catastrophe in Al-Hussein Hospital is evidence of the failure of the Iraqi government to protect the lives of Iraqis and it is time to end this,’ wrote Mohamed al-Halbousi, Iraq’s Parliament Speaker, on Twitter.

Fire tore through temporary structures next to the main building, the interior ministry said, but did not state what caused it.

Videos shared online show thick, black clouds of smoke billowing from Al Hussein hospital.

An April fire at a Baghdad hospital caused by an explosion of oxygen cylinders ignited, killed 82 and injured 110. There were many victims in the April fire who were on respirators and were burned or suffocated in the resulting inferno that spread rapidly throughout the hospital, where dozens of relatives had been visiting patients in the intensive care unit. The April fire engendered widespread anger, which led to the suspension and resignation of then health minister Hassan al-Tamimi.


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