At least 64 people have been killed in a fire likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion in the COVID ward at a hospital in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriya.
As rescuers combed the smoke-charred building in search of more bodies, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defence managers in Nasiriya, his office said in a statement.
The manager of the hospital was also suspended and ordered to be arrested, the statement added.
Health sources said the death toll from Monday’s fire could rise as many patients were still missing. Two health workers were among the dead, they said.
Health officials at Nasiriya 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 burned wards.
Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion inside the hospital’s COVID-19 wards was the likely cause of the fire.
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.
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.