Fire in Coronavirus Hospital in Iraq Kills at Least 58 People

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BAGHDAD – A fire caused by an exploding oxygen tank killed at least 58 people late Monday at a hospital treating patients with the Covid 19 virus in southern Iraq. According to Iraqi authorities, this is the second fatal fire at an insane asylum in the country in less than three months.

Video footage of the incident, viewed by the Wall Street Journal, shows flames and black smoke, as well as the sound of sirens at Al-Hussein Hospital in the city of Nasiriya.

According to local health authorities, the fire broke out in a quarantine area for Covid 19 patients attached to the main hospital. The Iraqi government has ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire, which continued until after midnight local time.

Following an emergency meeting with ministers and senior security officials, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi suspended the hospital’s director, the head of the regional health service and the head of the province’s civil defense. He also ordered that the three be held in custody for the duration of the investigation.

The fire increases public pressure on the Iraqi government, which is facing crumbling infrastructure, an ongoing economic crisis, a coronavirus pandemic and a host of security concerns.

The fire was the second such incident in Iraq in recent months, after a coronavirus fire in a Baghdad hospital ward in April killed at least 82 people and sparked outrage among Iraqis who accused authorities of negligence. After the incident, Mr Kadhimi also ordered an investigation and asked other hospitals to check for fire hazards.

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After Monday night’s fire in Nasiriya, crowds of enraged protesters gathered outside the hospital, according to eyewitness accounts and video footage Revolution! scanned. Protesters were seen setting fire to a police car.

The political parties burned us! The protesters scanned.

Most of the victims of the fire were patients of the quarantine facility, local health authorities said. Rows of corpses, wrapped in brown blankets, could be seen outside the pub.

Mohammed al-Halbusi, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said the fire shows a lack of protection of Iraqi lives. It’s time to end this catastrophic failure, he tweeted.

Another fire broke out Monday at the headquarters of the Iraqi Ministry of Health in Baghdad. No one was injured in the fire, which broke out on the fourth and fifth floors of the building, the ministry said in a statement.

Iraq is currently battling a resurgence of the coronavirus after a record number of new infections were recorded in recent days. On Monday, the country reported 9,141 new cases and 44 deaths.

Persons inspecting the damage at the scene of a fire in a hospital.

Photo:

essam al-sudani/reuters

In addition to the fires, Iraq is also experiencing prolonged power outages at a time when the country is experiencing temperatures that are among the hottest in the world, fueling protests. In June, the electricity minister resigned over power outages, which the ministry blamed on attacks on power lines, fuel shortages for power plants and recent interruptions of energy supplies from Iran.

The Covid 19 hospital fires have added to the catastrophic human toll exacted by the pandemic, as medical institutions have had to put more and more patients on respirators, which require bottled oxygen. Deadly fires in hospitals have also occurred in India and Romania.

The pandemic also disrupted the supply of bottled oxygen worldwide, forcing authorities to restrict supplies in several countries.

Email Jared Malsin at jared.malsin@wsj.com.

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